Another boatload of Rohingya refugees lands in Indonesia’s Aceh region

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Another boatload of Rohingya refugees lands in Indonesia’s Aceh region Rohingya refugees are seen on Kuala Gigeng Beach, Aceh Besar regency, Indonesia, Jan. 8, 2023.
[Handout Aceh Police]

A boat carrying 184 Rohingya refugees landed on a beach in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Sunday, joining the hundreds who arrived last year risking perilous sea voyages for a better future.

This was the first Rohingya boat to land in Aceh in 2023, but followed the arrival of two vessels, carrying a total of some 240 dehydrated and exhausted refugees, on Christmas and the day after in the province. These boats had been at sea for weeks, and some 40 people had perished on them.

The latest group – 69 men, 75 women and 40 children – came ashore at Kuala Gigeng Beach in Aceh Besar regency on Sunday afternoon, and it had not been immediately determined how long the refugees had been at sea, said provincial police spokesman Joko Krisdianto.

Joko said he also did not know where the boat had sailed from, but the head of local NGO KontraS Aceh, Azharul Husna, said the Rohingya might have departed from the refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

“Further handling [of the refugees] will be done by the civil protection agency, the immigration office and the social services department,” said Aceh police head of operations, Agus Sarjito.

An additional boat with some 180 Rohingya was reported missing last month, with all passengers presumed dead, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said Dec. 27.

Police spokesman Joko said representatives from UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and the Indonesian military were on hand to help the latest Rohingya arrivals.

Rohingya refugees eat at a temporary shelter in Pidie, Aceh province, Indonesia, Dec. 27, 2022. [Hidayatullah Tahjuddin/Reuters]

Miftach Tjut Adek, the leader of the local fishing community, said the fishermen reported spotting a refugee boat a few days ago near Rondo Island, an Indonesian territory in the Andaman Sea.

“We don’t know if the boat that came ashore today is the same boat that was seen a few days ago near Rondo Island,” he told BenarNews.

“Acehnese, both the government and local people, helped them because it is part of our cultural and religious values,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday that the arrival of Rohingya refugees to Aceh surged last year to 574. Between 2020 and 2022, officials recorded the arrival of 1,155 Rohingya refugees in Aceh.

Amnesty International says the latest arrival of Rohingya refugees highlights the deteriorating situation in Myanmar following the military coup in February 2021, as well as the dire conditions at camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.

UNHCR said in December it had recorded a six-fold increase in Rohingya undertaking dangerous and illicit sea journeys in 2022, compared with a year earlier. The refugees are trying to escape from Bangladesh’s refugee camps or their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar, where they are persecuted.

About 1 million Rohingya, including about 740,000 who fled Myanmar during a brutal military offensive in Rakhine in 2017, live in the crowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern Bangladeshi district by the Myanmar border.

Many of the stateless people have grown desperate because they see no hope of being repatriated to Myanmar, which is convulsed with violence following the military coup, rights advocates and NGOs in the region have said. The Rohingya in Bangladesh also cannot work or properly educate their children at these camps.

In 2022 alone, more than 2,000 Rohingya have taken to the sea in smugglers’ boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, with nearly 200 reportedly people dying so far, UNHCR said.

Uzair Thamrin in Banda Aceh contributed to the report.


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