A few days ago Myanmar leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the United Nations on the plight of Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority, the Rohingyas. The over 1 million Rohingyas living in Myanmar are treated as illegal immigrants. About 120,000 of the minority group are currently held in squalid camps in the jungle to be sold into slavery and bondage.
In my novel, ‘A Devil In Hong Kong’, I describe the persecution of the Rohingyas when Kotaro, pursued by the Myanmar police, joins a group of human traffickers to escape the country. As the traffickers lead Kotaro through the thick jungle of the Myanmar-Thai border he encounters a group of Rohingyas held as prisoners by the traffickers. Below is an excerpt from that chapter:
Kotaro awoke at dawn to a glorious jungle sunrise, fractured golden rays streaming through palm fronds, a smoky mist hugging the ground. Bird songs echoed through the trees, and every so often the screech of a Macaque monkey pierced the canopy.
Aung was already up and boiling water. As Kotaro eased himself out of his hammock he saw a procession of people enter the camp. They moved silently, as if they were ghosts. In the center of the group were seven haggard individuals, five men and two women. They looked undernourished and were filthy as if they had been living in the muck of the jungle for a long time. They were surrounded by a group of six men with semi-automatic weapons. The men with the rifles made the others squat in a tight circle. They then seated themselves cross-legged around Aung’s fire, their rifles across their laps.
Aung walked over to Kotaro with a cup of tea in each hand. Handing one cup to Kotaro he said, “They are from the Rohingya minority, from northeast Myanmar. We are reuniting them with their loved ones. Please excuse me while I do some business.”
Aung walked back to the fire and jovially engaged the men with rifles in conversation.
These are not immigrants being rescued and reunited with loved ones. These are prisoners! Kotaro thought. The pig was right. I have been blind!
Kotaro noted that the group of men and Aung were not speaking the Burmese tongue that he had gotten used to hearing. He thought that they might be speaking Thai. He took out his mobile telephone and started taking pictures, careful to make sure that the group around the fire did not notice.
“Hey, Kotaro!” Kotaro spun, hiding the phone. Aung was standing behind him. “We’ll leave in about fifteen minutes.”
“Sure. Was that Thai that you were speaking with your friends?” Kotaro asked.
“Friends? Oh, those guys. Yes. My mother was Thai, my dad Burmese.”
“I’ll help clean up,” Kotaro said. He went over to the fire and kneeled next to where Aung had left his cup on the ground. Very carefully Kotaro picked up the cup holding it only at the bottom. With his other hand he scooped up some ash from the perimeter of the fire pit. He then stood up and, making sure no one noticed him, walked to where he was hidden from the group by bushes. He sprinkled the ash on Aung’s cup and then gently blew. Ha, great! A fingerprint! Kotaro photographed the print.
Along with a short synopsis of his journey from Yangon, Kotaro sent the photos of the men with rifles, Aung, the Rohingya, and the fingerprint to Angela. Angela, could you please see if you can identify anyone here?
The group moved out, heading east towards the Gulf of Thailand. Aung and Kotaro took up the lead, the Rohingya shuffled behind, and the men with guns marched at the rear. From the trees above tropical birds, unseen, screeched admonitions at them as they hiked. Aung said to Kotaro, “I should tell you about the Weasel.”
“The Weasel?” Kotaro asked.
“Yes, the Weasel. He is the captain of the boat that will take you to Hong Kong. His appearance can be a bit shocking. He is from an Indonesian minority tribe that files their teeth to sharp points.” Aung said. “I believe that they think that it makes them look fierce.”
“You’re kidding. Sounds like something from the Stone Age,” Kotaro said. He was limping from his leg wound, trying to avoid stepping in the many puddles from the frequent rain.
Aung continued, “On top of that, however, the Weasel must have had some sort of accident, or something, that badly scarred his face. All chopped up. I don’t know the story, but his face is a mess. Somebody thought that the disfigured face and pointy teeth made him look like a weasel, and the name stuck.”
“OK, thanks for the warning. I will not show surprise at his appearance when I meet him so as not to hurt his feelings,” Kotaro said.
“Ha!” Aung laughed loudly, “The Weasel having feelings? That is really funny, Kotaro!”
After two more hours they arrived at the Gulf of Thailand. Steep jungle cliffs with dark green vegetation clinging to black rocky outcroppings descended to narrow slivers of sandy beaches below. Aung found a switchback trail down to the sand where a rickety wooden pier extended about one hundred feet across the crystalline water. At the end of the pier, where the water was deeper, the color of the ocean was a dark turquoise blue. There a boat bobbed in the water. Wide at the beam, chipped blue paint on the hull, and a white cabin on the deck, it was an old boat. It had not aged gracefully. Kotaro thought that it looked too small for a group of their size.
As they walked down the uneven slats of the old pier a man walked across the gangway of the boat to meet them. He was hunched slightly and wore a filthy white T-shirt. As they got closer and the man’s features came into focus, Kotaro thought, Yaa, I can see why Aung warned me!
“Kotaro, meet the Weasel,” Aung said when they were abreast of the man.
Kotaro said, “Nice to meet you, Captain Weasel.”
The Weasel sniffed loudly through his disfigured nose. It was a strange, wet sound, “gnugh, gnugh, gnugh.” His smile showed teeth that a shark would be proud of.
“Oh, yeah, one more thing, Kotaro,” Aung said. “The Weasel can’t talk, something to do with that accident. He just makes that sniffing noise through his nose.”
“OK.” Kotaro kept smiling.
“Gnugh, gnugh, gnugh,” the Weasel sniffed, and then went to take charge of the prisoners. The Rohingya were herded below deck.
Aung said to Kotaro, “I am heading back to Myanmar now. I am leaving you in the hands of the Weasel.”
“Thank you so much for getting me out of Myanmar, Aung. I really appreciate it. Probably would be dead by now if it weren’t for you.”
“My pleasure, Kotaro. Safe journeys.” Aung turned and headed back across the sand towards the steep cliff and the jungle.
Kotaro got on the boat. The Weasel pointed towards the white cabin, “Gnugh, gnugh, gnugh.”
“I go in there?” Kotaro asked.
“The Weasel flashed his pointy-tooth smile, shook his head ‘yes’, and said “Gnugh, gnugh, gnugh.”
The cabin had two rows of wooden benches and a table. There was a small galley that stunk of fish oil and diesel. A narrow run of steep wooden stairs ascended to the bridge above the galley. Weasel went up to the bridge and Kotaro sat down on one of the benches. He looked out of the scratched window as the boat motored away from the pier and out into the Gulf. From his position on the bench Kotaro could see the Weasel’s back up on the bridge. He called up to him, “Hey, Weasel, Aung said that it’s a two day journey to Hong Kong. Is that correct?”
“Gnugh, gnugh, gnugh.” The Weasel shook his head ‘no’ and held up three fingers.
Kotaro’s wounded leg throbbed in pain. He lay down on the bench and dozed off. When he awoke it was nighttime and a plate of rice with dried fish had been placed on the table in front of him. The drone of the diesel engines provided a constant and monotonous reverberation in the background.
On the morning of the third day Kotaro went out on deck. They had just passed Hainan Island. He felt a vibration in his pocket and pulled out his mobile. It was an e-mail from Angela,
Kotaro, the fingerprints that you sent are from a Chatchai Aung. He is a very bad man, and has done jail time in the U.S. for drug smuggling. The people in the pictures are Rohingya migrants. The Rohingya are a minority from northeast Myanmar who are horribly persecuted by the Burmese. To flee Myanmar and escape the persecution they pay Thai smugglers to get them out. However, the smugglers hold them in jungle camps in inhuman conditions until their families pay a ransom. They are beaten, sometimes to death, raped, and starved. If the ransom is not paid they are sold into slavery to work on Thai fishing boats. Kotaro, you are in a very dangerous situation. Get out of there!
As Kotaro read Angela’s e-mail he suddenly felt a pinprick in his arm and a hot sensation spreading through his limb. He turned to see the Weasel standing next to him, grinning his pointy-tooth smile and pushing down the plunger of a hypodermic needle protruding from his arm. The last thing Kotaro heard before the world went black was, “Gnugh, gnugh, gnugh.”