Acehnese authorities say they’re looking out for stranded Rohingya boat

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Acehnese authorities say they’re looking out for stranded Rohingya boat Rohingya children are seen on a boat waiting for evacuation as they arrive at a port in Krueng Geukuh, near Lhokseumawe in North Aceh, Indonesia, Dec. 31, 2021.
Antara Foto/Syifa Yulinnas/via Reuters

Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province are looking out for a stranded boat carrying up to 200 people – mostly Rohingya refugees – and will not turn away their vessel if it is spotted very close to shore, a local official told BenarNews on Saturday.

The United Nations and NGOs in recent days have demanded that governments in South and Southeast Asia move urgently to rescue the people on the boat who have been at sea for weeks, with as many as 20 passengers reportedly dying during their journey.

“If they approach, let’s say [within] 100 meters, we will pick them up. But we don’t know their position. So we are waiting and monitoring,” Hamdani, a spokesman for the government of North Aceh regency, said without adding much more.

The regency is coordinating with the Indonesian navy and other authorities in the province to watch out for the boat.

In recent months and years, other boatloads of stateless Rohingya Muslim refugees have landed in North Aceh during attempts to flee by sea from their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar or from crowded refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh.

In Jakarta on Saturday, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he had no information about a Rohingya boat approaching Aceh, the Muslim-majority country’s westernmost region.

On Friday, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR strongly criticized governments in Asia for failing to help the people aboard the stranded boat, which was last believed to be in waters north of Aceh. On Dec. 16, UNHCR had put out another call urging government to rescue them but to no avail.

The U.N. agency said it needed to remind countries in the region “that some 190 desperate people are on the verge of perishing at sea, adrift somewhere between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal as pleas to rescue and disembark them are continuously ignored.”

“This shocking ordeal and tragedy must not continue. These are human beings – men, women and children. We need to see the States in the region help save lives and not let people die,’’ said Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s director for Asia and the Pacific.

UNHCR cited reports indicating that the people on board the boat had been at sea for a month amid dire conditions and with insufficient food and water.

It said that all states “have a responsibility to rescue those on the boat and allow them to safely disembark in line with legal obligations and in the name of humanity.”

Some 50 Bangladeshi migrants are among the passengers on the boat, relatives of some of the men told BenarNews in interviews earlier this week.

In nearby Malaysia, another Muslim-majority country, officials with the coast guard and home ministry did not immediately respond on Saturday to queries from BenarNews on whether Malaysia would help the desperate people on the boat. 


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