Lost at Sea: Film shows the harsh reality of ongoing Rohingya crisis

05 Feb 2024

On 29 January 2024, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Doctors Without Borders launched a short animation film, "Lost at Sea", that illustrates the harsh reality Rohingya people endure as they try to seek safety—and their resilience. 

“Lost At Sea” is based on the experience of Muhib, a Rohingya man who fled Myanmar and made this dangerous journey across the sea to seek safety in Malaysia. He was stranded for more than two weeks on board a fishing boat in the Andaman Sea, full with men, women and children also fleeing for their lives. 

He witnessed 27 people die onboard. Passengers had no choice but to put their bodies into the sea as no help arrived. 

The year is 2017. Their destination is Malaysia. In this animated film, dream-like flashbacks reveal the story of Muhib. He is haunted by the song his mother sang him and searches his memory for the reasons that led him to flee in the first place.

“I feared for my life in Myanmar and was compelled to seek refuge in another country,” said Muhib. “The uncertainty and at times hostility of a new land is preferable to perishing in a place where I was never treated as a human being since birth. Rohingya are desperate for safety and security. We have nowhere to go. Taking a boat is like jumping in the sea without knowing the consequences. You can so easily lose your life in these unseaworthy boats unfit to make these journeys.”

Rohingya people continue to make this same journey, in even greater numbers. A recent report from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, notes “a surge in the number of desperate Rohingya refugees reportedly dying or going missing” on similar boat journeys during 2023.

569 Rohingya were reported to have perished or gone missing last year in South-East Asian waters, with nearly 4,500 embarking on deadly sea journeys – a significant increase on previous years.

Paul Brockmann
MSF’s regional operational director

“Rohingya who remain in Myanmar, and those who fled to Bangladesh struggle to survive,” said Paul Brockmann, MSF's regional operational director. 

“The vast majority live in camps with severe movement restrictions, limited opportunities for employment or education, and without hope for a better future. With significant levels of violence in the Bangladesh camps and ongoing conflicts in Myanmar, the situation is forcing many Rohingya to make increasingly desperate choices such as risky sea journeys.” 

"Lost at Sea" was produced in collaboration with produced Noon Films (based in Barcelona, Spain), and Presence (based in London) and has recently secured two significant awards, further solidifying its impact and humanitarian relevance in the realm of global cinema.

The accolades include Heroes International Film Festival, Rome for Best International Short Film and MUSOC (Festival for Social Cinema and Human Rights, Asturias): 4th Chema Castiello Award for the Best Short Film with social relevance and outstanding capacity to be used in classrooms for a younger audience. 

What is the current situation?

Since mid-2022, violence in the camp has increased significantly. There has been an increase in armed clashes, killings and abductions and we witness the severe toll these incidents have on people’s lives. In 2023 MSF treated an increasing number of violence related injuries.  

“Abductions have become common over the past twelve months,” said Brockmann. “Many individuals, particularly children, are forcibly abducted by traffickers and their families extorted to either pay for their return to Bangladesh or to be moved to Malaysia.”

The Rohingya's plight is compounded by the denial of their citizenship in Myanmar, rendering them legally stateless. One of the many implications of statelessness is the inability to obtain identification documents and passports.  

There are no safe, legal pathways for Rohingya people to seek asylum in the region. This leaves them with no other option but to take these risky journeys and rely on human trafficking networks that put them at higher risk of death, violence, extortion or sexual assault.

"The Rohingya have nowhere to go,” said Brockmann. “They are not safe or given basic human rights anywhere in the region. It is crucial that the international community recognize the severity of the Rohingya refugee crisis and work towards mid-term solutions that respect their rights and dignity in the places they are now until they can eventually return to Myanmar. Rohingya deserve to live in safety, with access to essential services and opportunities. We are treating people for illnesses, but without a change in their living conditions and ongoing containment, there is no possible cure for their experiences."

Will you support our work?

As an independent, impartial medical humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières can respond rapidly to emergency situations and deliver effective medical and mental health treatment to people in need – no matter who they are.
By making a donation, you can help ensure that we can be there to provide medical and mental health assistance where people need it most, like the Rohingya.