Boat with 81 Rohingya Lands in Indonesia after Months at Sea

Riza Chadijah
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Boat with 81 Rohingya Lands in Indonesia after Months at Sea A group of Rohingya gather on a beach after arriving at Idaman, a small island off the coast of East Aceh in northern Sumatra, Indonesia, June 4, 2021.

A boat carrying 81 Rohingya from Myanmar was found stranded in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Friday after four months at sea and after India and Malaysia had turned it away, officials and state media said.

One of the Rohingya told Indonesia’s state news agency that he and his compatriots had sailed from Myanmar, but United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, back in February, said the group had departed from refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. The people on the boat spent at least 113 days at sea.

The refugees’ boat washed up on the tiny, uninhabited Idaman Island in East Aceh regency, said Idris, an official from a village one-half km away.

“They appear to be in good health despite having a food shortage during their journey,” Idris told BenarNews, adding that the group comprised 49 women, 21 men and 11 children.

Muhammad Ilyas, one of the refugees, said the group wanted to go to Malaysia, but was turned away because of COVID-19 concerns, according to the Indonesian state news agency Antara.

“Before, there were 90 of us. But nine people – five women and four men – died. Now, we are the only 81 people left, stranded in this area,” Antara quoted Ilyas as saying.

He said their boat broke down near India, but Indian fishermen came to their rescue.

“Because our boat leaked, Indian fishermen gave us this boat to continue our journey,” he said.

This group was the third to arrive in Aceh after two groups of almost 400 Rohingya landed in the province in June and September 2020.

In 2017, more than 740,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state and took refuge in neighboring Bangladesh amid a brutal military crackdown, which the United Nations later described as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The Rohingya who arrived in Aceh on Friday were given food, clothing and medicine by residents, village official Idris said. Residents also built tents for the refugees, while medical workers arrived to check on their health, he said.

“But we don’t know where they will be taken. In the meantime, we are providing basic necessities for them,” Idris said.

The head of the East Aceh Regional Disaster Management Agency, Ashadi Asa, said officials would discuss what to do with the newly arrived Rohingya.

“So far, we have not decided where to place them. What is certain is that, until now, they are still on Idaman Island being taken care of by local residents,” Ashadi told BenarNews.

Ashadi said the government of East Aceh regency was expecting the arrival of a team from UNHCR.

“We hope that after a decision is made [about where to place the refugees]. UNHCR can handle them because we are also worried about their condition,” Ashadi said.

UNHCR officials in Jakarta and Aceh could not be reached for comment immediately, but a spokesperson from the U.N. agency told Reuters that the refugees did not have a place to stay. UNHCR officials were coordinating with the local government to determine where to place the refugees, the spokesperson said.

Over the years, thousands of Rohingya have paid traffickers to transport them from Myanmar or the crowded camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar to Thailand and Malaysia, where they can find work.

Groups of Rohingya have packed onto boats and set sail for countries in search of asylum, but have often been refused entry, including this group that was turned away from Malaysia.

Malaysia, a majority-Islamic country which hosts as many as 150,000 of the estimated 1.8 million to 2 million Rohingya Muslims in the world, is a desired destination for Rohingya fleeing from Myanmar.


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