Scores of Rohingya Rescued from Stranded Boat off Indonesia’s Aceh Province

Fishermen rescued nearly 100 Rohingya after their boat broke down off Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, but the fishing boat that picked them up got stranded after running into its own technical problems, police in Aceh province said Wednesday.

The Indonesian fishing crew saw the Rohingya boat with 94 people onboard drifting at sea and moved them onto their own boat late Monday, according to North Aceh police chief Tri Hadiyanto. The fishermen’s boat broke down while trying to reach the shore, he said.

“Today police, the military and local officials came to the site of the boat, which is four nautical miles off the coast,” Hadiyanto told BenarNews, referring to the broken down fishing boat.

Meanwhile in nearby Malaysia, the coast guard chief said that an unknown number of Rohingya had died and their bodies were thrown overboard from a boat before it was towed to Langkawi Island earlier this month. Malaysian authorities have detained the 269 Rohingya who were on that boat.

In Aceh, a community leader, Muhammad Hasan, said local officials had agreed to transfer the 94 rescued Rohingya once they reached the shore of the northwestern Indonesian coast.

“The plan is to evacuate them to the Syamtalira Bayu fish market, because there are shelters there,” Hasan told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Footage shared by the local civil protection agency showed rescuers approaching the fishing boat, which carried what the man in the video described as “Burmese people.”

“We’re seeing children and women. We will pick them up and rescue them,” the voice in the video said.

Police said 15 men, 49 women and 30 children were rescued. The Rohingya boat’s origin and the destination were not immediately known.

The 94 people were hungry and weak when they were discovered in waters off the Indonesian coast, the Associated Press quoted a local official as saying.

Lilianne Fan, spokeswoman for the Geutanyoe Foundation, a humanitarian charity established in Aceh in 1999, praised the community for offering to support the refugees.

“Once again, the fishermen of Aceh show us true humanitarianism, rescuing Rohingya refugees whose boat was sinking,” she said in a Facebook post, adding that villagers were preparing food for those on the boat. “To help others, regardless of background, religion, nationality, is an obligation and a tradition that must be respected.

“Our Aceh team has been coordinating closely with the courageous fishermen and the local government in this response and stands ready to provide assistance,” she said.

About 1 million Rohingya who fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine state are sheltering in refugee camps in and around Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district. U.N. investigators have accused Myanmar’s military of carrying out killings and other atrocities against the stateless Rohingya during a 2017 offensive, which forced more than 730,000 across the border into Bangladesh to join thousands who had previously fled there.

Groups of Rohingya have packed onto boats and set sail for Malaysia and other locations in search of asylum, but have often been turned away.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi said the human rights situation in Rakhine came up during a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers on Wednesday.

Retno said she urged leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to facilitate a voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation plan for Rohingya refugees.

“Repatriation is still a priority for Indonesia. We must continue to try to bring them back to their homes, the Rakhine state,” Retno said at an online press conference.

Late last year, ASEAN leaders agreed to form an ad hoc task force to help repatriate the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar.

On Wednesday, the director of the Indonesian office of Amnesty International, Usman Hamid, called on the government to allow the Rohingya boat people to land in Aceh.

“This is really concerning. There are many children and women in the group,” Usman told BenarNews. “They must be given basic needs such as food, clothing, clean water and adequate shelter.”

Malaysian coast guard chief: ‘Some of them had died at sea’

On June 8, Malaysian authorities towed a disabled boat ashore and detained 269 Rohingya after dozens jumped overboard and began swimming to Langkawi, an island off the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia. The landing marked the first time that Rohingya had been allowed to disembark in Malaysia for more than two months.

Two days later, Mohd Zubil Mat Som, the chief of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA), the country’s coast guard, told BenarNews that another Rohingya boat carrying 300 people was sheltering north of Langkawi off the Thai island of Koh Adang. Thai officials at the time said their navy could not locate a boat.

On Wednesday, Mohd Zubil said the boat carrying 269 had been carrying more than 300 Rohingya. He referred to the boat as number 2 – adding the Rohingya had left boat number 1 which had been carrying more than 800 before the transfer. Officials have not located the boat which apparently had been carrying as many as 500 refugees.

“We were informed that over 300 individuals were transferred onto Mother Boat 2, but some of them had died at sea and they were thrown overboard. This we got through the interviews with the 269,” he told reporters in Putrajaya.

Asked about the number of deaths, Mohd Zubil said, “I’m not sure, they said about 300-plus while 269 arrived here. You can figure it out yourself.”

Throughout the region, meanwhile, countries have closed their borders to foreigners in recent months over fears tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Human rights groups have raised alarms about the impact of such policies on boatloads of Rohingya and have urged countries in the region to allow the boats to land.

In April, hundreds of Rohingya men, women and children were said to be starving when brought ashore in Bangladesh following a nearly two-month failed journey to Malaysia during which dozens died, officials and survivors said.

Chris Lewa, the coordinator of the Arakan Project, an NGO that advocates for the rights of Rohingya people, told BenarNews last week that it was aware then of a Rohingya boat still at sea with hundreds of people on board.

“As far as we know, there is only one boat remaining at sea with as many as 500 aboard. Reportedly a large trawler carrying about 800 sailed from the Bay of Bengal early April and these passengers were divided into two boats at sea sometimes in May,” Lewa said.

“One of these two boats is the one intercepted with a damaged engine in Malaysia on 7 June. We are not aware of any other boat unless the large trawler decided to again divide passengers into smaller boats,” Lewa told BenarNews.

 

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