Ibrahim, Indonesian fisherman who saved starving, exhausted migrants. (Photo: Rio Tuasikal)

Ibrahim, Indonesian fisherman who saved starving, exhausted migrants. (Photo: Rio Tuasikal)

It was 8 pm at night and the sea was calm in the Malacca Straits. 

Fisherman Ibrahim was pulling in his first trawl of fish for the night.

When he got news that an overcrowd boat nearby was in trouble. 

“We met another small fishing boat and he asked us to help. He said there were more than a 1000 people that needed help; his boat could only take around 20- 30 people. So we asked for our help,” he said. 

He immediately released his catch and headed towards to Malaysia. 30 minutes later he saw a terrible scene that looked like something out of the movie Titanic. 

“When we arrived we put our lights on. We saw all these people floating in the water like ducks. Many of them were drowning. We saved some of them. Their boat was half underwater and passengers were being thrown into the water," he described.

"The boat was small and it so overcrowded the people on it couldn’t move. Its passengers did not jump but were thrown off it.  The boat’s engine was dead and the boat was filling up with water,” he said. 

Ibrahim’s boat was the fifth fishing boat on the scene. 

His 30 person crew lowered their ropes and started saving people.

He took 180 people to shore. 

“Some of them were half naked so we gave them our spare clothes. We gave them what food and water we had. Some of them were bleeding so we gave them onions and salt to put on their wounds,” Ibrahim said. 

He says they used body language to communicate. 


It was almost dawn when Ibrahim and other ships arrived at the Kuala Langsa dock in Aceh. 

He then handed over the refugees to the water police who scolded him. 

“He asked me why we did not reject them? If the ship was still in a good condition we would have just given them food. But we have to rescue them if they are drowning in the sea. That’s our principal. We saw them in water and many were drowning," he said. 

"We are humans. If someone is dying he had to help them. There is no way that we could have done anything different. They needed our help. We do not need to wait for orders from anyone else to help them,” he added.


Muhammad Amin, one of the Rohingya refugees, says they think fishermen like Ibrahim are heroes.

“If there were no Acehnese out to sea that day everyone would have died.  We would be dead if it wasn’t for the fishermen,” he said. 

Another refugee, Hassan, said the fishermen have given them a new life.

"I always pray that for your country. If your country do not safe us, maybe we will be die here," he said. 

UNHCR estimates there are still around 7,000 other boat people at sea.

Ibrahim and the local fishermen have agreed to report illegal immigrants to the authorities if they see them.

“If the ship is still in a good condition we will not bring them to the coast. If they are in the ship, they do not need any help right? But we saved the refugees that were in trouble,” he said. 

The Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees are now staying in temporary camps in Kuala Langsa harbor. 

This harbor is just next to the fish unloading center where Ibrahim dock his boat. He says they lost money on the night of the rescue.

“We didn’t catch anything and then we got home and we haven’t been able to go out to sea again because we have a problem with the light.  Ramadhan is coming. Everything is going wrong,” he said.


But when he visits to the refugee’s camp, he says he knows he has done the right thing.

“We have a hard life but their problems are much greater than ours.  I want to see the government look after them for a year.  They have never begged us for food. So as along as the government is looking after them it’s not a problem having them here,” he said. 

A refugee passes by and thanks him again for saving them.  

“Yes we lost a bit of money, but this about saving people! We should never loose our humanity,” said Ibrahim.

 

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