LANGSA, Indonesia (AP) — The Asian migrants and asylum seekers wanted to go to Malaysia, where family, friends and, in some cases, menial jobs awaited them.
But human traffickers commandeering their wooden boats abruptly changed plans following a regional crackdown that led to dozens of arrests, not just of brokers, but also police and politicians.
Spooked, captains abandoned their ships and human cargo. After weeks, sometimes months at sea, sitting between tightly packed sweaty strangers, the tropical sun beating down, the hungry, dehydrated Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar landed on unknown shores.
They were in Indonesia's Aceh province, they soon learned, close but yet so far from where they wanted to be.
Now, the only connection they had with their dreams — and worried families — were cellphones, some borrowed from local villagers.
Men, women and children could be seen squatting in the sand, ears pressed to simple handsets. Frustrated by weak signals, others moved around or shouted into mouthpieces.
Some cried in anger after lines suddenly dropped. But just as often there was laughter and happiness as calls went through and they were reconnected with loved ones.