Hundreds More Migrants Rescued off Indonesia

By Nurdin Hasan
150520-ID-migrants-620 Indonesians distribute food to migrants rescued in Aceh province, May 20, 2015.

Updated at 8:19 p.m. ET on 2015-05-20

Prevented from landing on Thai and Malaysian shores, more than 400 Bangladeshi and Rohingya Muslim migrants crisscrossed the Strait of Malacca for six days before Indonesian fishermen rescued them early on Wednesday.

The fishermen found the 433 migrants hungry, ill and dehydrated on a wooden boat, whose engine had gone dead, drifting in waters off Aceh province, rescuers said.

“They were like corpses lying on the deck of the boat. Many of them jumped into the water as we approached. We pulled them into our boat,” fishermen Razali Puteh told reporters after helping bring the 433 people to land at Kuala Geulumpang, in East Aceh regency.

“Fishermen who were out fishing saw them asking for help. The fishermen helped them and brought them to shore,” Teuku Nyak Idrus, another fishermen, told BenarNews.
The rescue came hours before the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand were to meet near Kuala Lumpur to discuss a migrant crisis that has hit Southeast Asia.

Acehnese fishermen had also rescued hundreds of other migrants in local waters in the previous 10 days.

The first group from the boat came ashore at 2 a.m. and counted 100 migrants, many of them women and children, said local search-and-rescue team member Khairul Nova.

Dozens of more boats sailed out to bring back the other passengers from the boat, which was on the verge of sinking, he said.

‘Leave or we will shoot you’

Among those rescued was Ubaydul Haq, a 30-year-old Muslim Rohingya, who talked to reporters about their four-month ordeal out on the open seas.

When their boat set out in the Bay of Bengal, passengers were given food and some water twice a day.

But during the month before their captain and crew abandoned the passengers and fled by speedboat, they were each only given a biscuit and small amount of water once daily.

“After the captain and crew fled, about two weeks later, our engine died. We drifted directionless for two weeks,” he said. “There was no food or drink. We entered Malaysia, but we were stopped.”

On May 14, their boat approached Thai waters near Koh Lipe island in Satun province and the Malaysian border, recounted Muhammad Salim, another Rohingya man.

“The Thai Navy gave us food and water. A lot of people jumped into the water to get food dropped from a helicopter,” the 23-year-old said.

Their boat was then escorted back out to the high seas and banned from re-entering Thai waters.
It was later spotted by the Malaysian Navy, which also chased it off.

“They said, if you don’t go within 10 minutes, we will shoot you,” Salim said, adding that Malaysian sailors pointed guns at the boat’s passengers.

Turned away multiple times

Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, which monitors migrants’ journeys across the Bay of Bengal, confirmed that the boat rescued by Acehnese fishermen was the same one seen in Thai waters last Thursday, May 14.

"Our researchers in Aceh have confirmed it's the same boat," she told Agence France-Presse.

“He [the researcher] talked to two people, very briefly. They said they had been taken out of Thai waters three times; we previously thought they had only been towed out twice by the Thais,” she added.

"But they said the worst were the Malaysians who pushed them out twice. They said the second time the Malaysians came with guns and said they'd shoot at the boat if they came back again. They said the Malaysians then shadowed the boat all the way to Indonesia."


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