A small boat carrying 20 members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim community landed in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Tuesday, local officials said.
The arrival of the Rohingya was the first one reported on Sumatra island in several months, but came amid recent reports of boatloads of Rohingya trying to sail away from Myanmar or neighboring Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have been sheltering in camps in the southeast.
The group of Rohingya who landed at Kuala Idi, a port in East Aceh regency, in a motorized wooden boat, were all males aged 20 or under, officials said.
“Most of them are still teenagers. They were in good condition when they landed in Kuala Idi. No one was seriously ill,” Abdul Musafir, the head of the local search and rescue agency, told BenarNews.
Local people immediately gave the visitors food, water and clothes, while health officials examined their health at a naval post.
According to one of the Rohingya who spoke some Malay, the group set sail for Malaysia 15 days ago from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Musafir said.
“But there was no explanation why they later landed in Kuala Idi. Immigration officials are interviewing them,” he said.
The head of the local fishing community, Razali M. Ali, said the 20 Rohingya sailed in without assistance from Acehnese fishermen.
The engine on their boat was working properly and the Rohingya had reserves of fuel and food, he said.
“It seems they have had enough preparation. But it’s not clear why they made a stop in Kuala Idi,” Razali told BenarNews.
Later on Tuesday, Musafir said the 20 Rohingya were moved to an immigration office in Langsa, the main town in East Aceh, for further handling.
The Rohingyas’ boat arrived in rainy weather on Tuesday morning, officials said.
“Navy post officials were initially suspicious because the boat was different from fishing boats here,” said Adjunct Senior Commissioner Wahyu Kuncoro, East Aceh’s police chief.
“It is believed that they had run away from their country, Myanmar, to avoid conflict by leaving their families. They say they will go home if the conflict is over,” he added.
In the past, Acehnese fishermen have rescued Rohingya boat people in the Malacca Strait after their boats drifted due to engine problems.
In April, 76 Rohingya, including 25 women and eight children, became stranded in Aceh’s Bireuen regency after drifting at sea for nine days.
In May 2015, more than 1,000 Rohingya were rescued from boats by Acehnese fishermen after spending several weeks at sea.
Most of the Rohingya who ended up in Aceh have since left for Malaysia in search of work, while some have obtained asylum in third countries.
Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and systematically discriminates against them, denying them citizenship although many of their families have been in that country for generations. They also do not get access to basic services, such as education and health care.
In recent years, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled or attempted to flee persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar on boats organized by human traffickers and bound for other Southeast Asian nations.
About 720,000 Muslim Rohingyas fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh following a military crackdown that began in August 2017. U.N. human rights investigators accused Myanmar’s military of committing ethnic cleansing.