Sydney investigative correspondent Kristen Gelineau, who has covered the Rohingya crisis since 2017, heard from a young Rohingya source about a surge in people leaving a camp in Bangladesh. And then one boat vanished.
Her source heard of a recording of a call from a woman on board, along with video of the boat itself. “Please come to the camps,” he told her. “I have no power. You have the power to get this story out.”
A second source said she’d heard the captain’s entire family had been on board.
No officials had launched an investigation, and nobody had gone to the camps to figure out what happened. And no one had written a single word about the boat that had vanished.
It took two months of all-out lobbying, calling in favors from every contact in Bangladesh, to finally get a visa to go. Gelineau left 48 hours later, and Dhaka video journalist Al-emrun Garjon and photographer Mahmud Hossain Opu joined her.
They tracked down the husband of the woman on board who’d made the call and interviewed dozens of people, including some in a shelter in Sri Lanka who were on a second boat. Because of the impact trauma can have on people’s memories, Gelineau asked for corroborating evidence — call logs, audio recordings, videos and photos. A girl came forward with a separate audio recording of another call between her and her aunt, which proved crucial in nailing down the timeline of when the boat left Bangladesh.
There were so many families desperate to talk that the AP journalists literally had a line of them waiting to speak. Many were in tears, clutching photos of their lost loved ones.
Huge credit goes to our Rohingya stringers, including Shafiqur Rahman, who literally risked their lives to get the truth out about this boat — tracking down sources, triple-checking facts and translating. We cannot name our other stringers for their safety, but we very much want to acknowledge them.
McKinnon de Kuyper put together the heartbreaking video, which included the call from the woman on the boat and the story was our most engaged on AP digital platforms for the day, with a perfect engagement score of 100.
For persistence in telling a story that might otherwise have remained untold, Gelineau, Garjon, Opu, de Kuyper and anonymous stringers in Bangladesh win this week’s first citation for Best of the Week.