UNHCR Pleads to Indonesia to Take in Rohingya Stranded at Sea

Uzair Thamrin and Tria Dianti
2021.12.28
Banda Aceh, Indonesia and Jakarta
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UNHCR Pleads to Indonesia to Take in Rohingya Stranded at Sea Officers in Bireuen regency prepare to send supplies to Rohingya refugees stranded in a boat off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province, Dec. 28, 2021.
[Handout photo from Indonesian Police via AFP]

The United Nations on Tuesday urged Indonesia to allow 120 Rohingya stranded aboard a boat near Aceh province to come ashore, but local officials said they had limited resources to care for the refugees, and so were turning them away.

The Indonesian office of U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said the boat, anchored to a fishing device about 50 miles off Aceh, could sink because it was reportedly leaking with its engine broken.

“The UNHCR is extremely concerned about the safety of the refugees on board,” Mitra Suryono, a spokeswoman for the agency’s local office, said in a statement.

“To prevent loss of life, UNHCR urges the Indonesian government to immediately allow the ship come ashore safely,” Mitra said.

Amnesty International made a similar appeal.

“Sending them back to the high seas is tantamount to Indonesia shirking its international obligation,” Usman Hamid, Amnesty’s country director, said in a statement.

On Tuesday, foreign ministry officials in Jakarta declined to comment on what Indonesia planned to do with the boatload of Rohingya refugees.

In Aceh, a local official said the Rohingya on the boat would be supplied with necessities so they could go on by sea to Malaysia, their intended destination.

“They wanted to go to Malaysia, so we will help with fuel and food so that they can continue their journey,” Bireuen regency chief Muzakkar A. Gani told BenarNews, citing information from the police.

He did not comment on reports that the boat was leaking and its engine was damaged.

Local fishermen first spotted the boat in the waters off Bireuen on Sunday, but Indonesian security forces prevented locals from helping the refugees come ashore, according to a community leader and a human rights activist.

On Tuesday, fishermen in Bireuen said they were determined to bring Rohingya refugees to shore if the authorities failed to do so.

Badruddin Yunus, the leader of the fishing community in the regency, said the government had not taken any action other than promising to send food to the refugees on the boat.

“We are concerned about welfare of the children. They are human beings. Where is our humanity?” Badruddin told BenarNews.

At least 51 children were among the group, he said.

“Whatever it takes [we will bring them ashore],” said Badruddin, adding that the local community had collected food and supplies to be sent to the boat.

Nasir Jamil, a national lawmaker from Aceh, urged immigration authorities to allow the boat to land by coordinating with security forces.

“We have not ratified the U.N. convention on refugees, but we have regulations that provide for sheltering refugees who come to Indonesia,” said Nasir, adding that he would reach out to the Ministry of Law and Human Rights so the Rohingya could be sheltered in Aceh.

“Fishermen have nothing to fear if they are not part of a people smuggling ring,” he added.

Since a brutal crackdown by Burmese security forces in Rakhine state against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, hundreds have paid traffickers to transport them to Thailand and Malaysia, where they can find work, and away from Myanmar or the crowded camps in neighboring Bangladesh where they fled to that year.

Groups of Rohingya have also packed into boats and sailed off in search of asylum in other countries, but have often been refused entry.

As of October, at least 665 Rohingya migrants have ended up stranded in Indonesia on their way to third countries including Malaysia and Australia, according to UNHCR.

Indonesia is not a party to the U.N.’s 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The nation prohibits refugees from obtaining jobs and attending formal schools.

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