17-year-old helped camp of 700 trafficked Rohingya escape

17-year-old helped camp of 700 trafficked Rohingya escape
Rohingya men from Myanmar perform congregational Friday prayers at the newly set up confinement area for migrants at Bayeun, Aceh province on May 22, 2015 after more than 400 Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were rescued by Indonesian fishermen off the waters of the province on May 20.

HAADYAI - Trafficked, trapped and tormented by fellow Rohingya, 17-year-old Yousof (not his real name) still wants to help his people.

"I want them to have a status, to belong to a nation," said the teen who is still waiting for refugee status from the United Nations.

Once he gets it, he says: "I want to study in America and help my people."

Held captive in one of the camps in the jungles of the Malaysian-Thai border, Yousof was one of the smarter boys who helped an entire camp of about 700 trafficked Rohingya escape.

"I shouted 'police, police'. Everyone ran," said Yousof with the help of a translator.

Yousof and five other young men had thought out that escape plan for a while.

They were young and healthy, and were brought out of camp occasionally by their captors to bury the dead at a Muslim cemetery.

Yousof and his friends noticed that their captors - who were Rohingya and Thais - were afraid of the police.

One evening, returning from the cemetery after burying three bodies, the six young men decided to execute their plan.

As the captors ran, the victims also ran out of the jungle, and ended up in a rubber estate in Padang Besar, Thailand. There, they were rescued by locals.

Yousof believed he was in a Thai camp, where he spent three months being a cook and grave digger.

"It was very bad. Women were raped. People were beaten and left to die," said the teen who is illiterate.

He had dug a grave for 20 bodies and seen some 3,000 Rohingya come and leave the camp.

"No money, you stay in the camp," he said.

His has been a hard life.

As a 15-year-old, Yousof was working for a fishing boat but he was caught while walking on the streets of Rakhine, Myanmar, and put on a boat together with about 450 Rohingya.

"They told me they wanted to help me make money in Malaysia. But they pointed a long knife at me," said the teen who now lives in a secret shelter.

For one month on the boat, he was given a handful of rice and two mouthfuls of water a day, he said, with tears in his eyes.

"Some jumped into the sea to die," he said.

However, Yousof said being in the camp was worse because it was extremely crammed with people.

"No shower. We only go to toilet once a day," he said.

The traffickers moved the victims from an entry point in Thailand to Padang Besar, cramming 20 people into a pick-up truck for a journey of seven to eight hours.

The victims were forced to hike up to the camp in the jungle. Anyone attempting to escape was shot by the traffickers or beaten up.

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