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Over 100 Rohingya refugees land in Indonesia

AFP
Sunday, Dec 03, 2023

SABANG, Indonesia: More than 100 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, landed in Indonesia’s westernmost province on Saturday, officials said, but locals threatened to push them back to sea.

Hundreds more of the mostly Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar were trapped on board another two unseaworthy vessels adrift in the Andaman Sea, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The latest arrival comes after more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees landed in Aceh last month, the biggest wave of Rohingyas to land in Indonesia since 2015.

The Rohingya are heavily persecuted in Myanmar and thousands risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys, often in flimsy boats that sail from Bangladesh, to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.

A 19-year-old Rohingya who gave his name as Deluarsah said the group left Bangladesh in early November and spent more than 20 days at sea in dangerous conditions.

“We come here with the single boat. The ocean is very dangerous,” Deluarsah said, adding that he was “happy” to have landed in Indonesia.

The UNHCR urged countries around the Andaman Sea to “swiftly deploy their full search and rescue capacities” to find the other two other boats it said had suffered engine failure and were “aimlessly drifting”.

“UNHCR is concerned that food and water may be running out and there is a significant risk of fatalities in the coming days if people are not rescued and disembarked to safety,” it said in a statement.

Monitors say more boats are on the way despite some locals turning the often dangerously overcrowded vessels carrying Rohingya refugees back to sea and stepping up patrols along the coast.

Dofa Fadhli, the head of Ie Meulee village on Sabang island off Aceh, said there were 139 refugees on the latest boat, which made land at 2:30 am local time (1930 GMT Friday), including “children, women and adult men”.

“When I arrived, the Rohingya refugees were already on the beach,” he told AFP.

More than half a dozen boats have arrived in Aceh since November 14 and the UNHCR commended Indonesia’s “example of solidarity and humanity”, which it said other countries in the region should follow.

However, Fadhli said those on board would be pushed back to sea if they were not relocated but would also be given aid in the meantime. “We, the residents of Ie Meulee, strongly reject the arrival of the Rohingya refugees,” he said.

“If within the time limit that we have given until this afternoon, there is no action, then we will return the Rohingya refugees back to their boat.”

The refugees could be seen huddled on a beach cordoned off by a yellow police line, with security forces and locals standing around them.

While local officials counted 139 refugees, Rohingya refugee Deluarsah said 124 were on board when they sailed from Bangladesh.

UNHCR protection associate Faisal Rahman confirmed more than 100 refugees had landed in Sabang and would likely spend at least the night there.

“We are making our best effort to secure a place” for the refugees, Rahman said.

Medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres also asked Indonesia and Malaysia to give the Rohingya safe refuge.

“It’s boat season, so there will be more boats,” Paul Brockmann, MSF regional director, told AFP in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

“People don’t take these journeys out of adventure. They take these journeys out of a sense of desperation, and hope for a future.”

More than 3,500 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the risky journey to Southeast Asian countries in 2022, according to the UNHCR.

Nearly 350 Rohingya died or went missing last year while attempting hazardous sea crossings, the agency has estimated.