Boat with 120 Rohingya Refugees Stranded off Indonesia’s Aceh Province

Uzair Thamrin and Arie Firdaus
Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and Jakarta
Boat with 120 Rohingya Refugees Stranded off Indonesia’s Aceh Province A group of Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, gather on Pulau Idaman, a small island off the coast of Indonesia’s East Aceh province, June 6, 2021.

A boat carrying 120 Rohingya was stranded in waters off Indonesia’s Aceh province as security forces prevented locals from helping the refugees come ashore, a local community leader and a human rights activist said Monday.

A local legal aid group told BenarNews that fishermen feared they would be prosecuted if they helped the Rohingya come ashore, while Amnesty International urged the government to allow the boat to land, according to a report by Antara, the state news agency.

“Local fishermen were not allowed to bring the refugees [ashore],” said Syahrul Putra Muti, director of the Banda Aceh Legal Aid Institute.

On Sunday, fishermen found the boat in waters off the coast of Bireun regency in northern Aceh, said Badruddin Yunus, a leader of the local fishing community.

“We received reports from fishermen, there were 120 people, 51 children, 9 adult men, and 60 women,” he told local publication AcehNews.

“They threw paper at our fishermen on which they had written, and they used sign language when communicating with fishermen.”

The boat has been anchored to a fishing device about 50 miles off Aceh, he said, adding that the Navy planned to send food supplies to the boat on Tuesday.

“So far, there has been no response from the Bireuen regency administration,” Badruddin told BenarNews.

“Local security authorities said they were awaiting guidance from authorities in Jakarta.”

On Monday, Indonesian security officials in Aceh and Jakarta could not be reached immediately for comment.

Amnesty said the fishermen had appealed to local authorities to rescue the Rohingya migrants because they had been at sea for weeks or months, Reuters news agency and Antara reported.

“There needs to be joint responsibility between regional countries to conduct search and rescue so that [refugees] can avoid dangers at sea...,” Amnesty Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said, according to Reuters.

Since a brutal crackdown by Burmese security forces in Rakhine state against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, hundreds of them 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.

Around 740,000 Rohingya sought shelter at refugee campus southeastern Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar. They are fenced into these camps and not allowed to work, which is why many refugees try to leave, some Rohingya have told reporters over the years.

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

In June, a court in Aceh sentenced three fishermen to five years in prison for people smuggling after they helped bring people from a Rohingya boat to shore last year in return for payments.

“I suspect that local Acehnese fishermen are now afraid to do the same because they don’t want to be arrested by the security forces,” Syahrul, of the Banda Aceh Legal Aid Institute, told BenarNews.

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 the United Nations refugee agency 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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