Hundreds of Rohingya land in Indonesia after months at sea

Wooden boat carrying passengers including 181 women and 14 children arrives in Aceh

Rohingya migrants look on following their arrival by boat in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, Indonesia. Photograph: Rahmat Mirza/AFP via Getty Images

Rohingya migrants look on following their arrival by boat in Lhokseumawe, Aceh province, Indonesia. Photograph: Rahmat Mirza/AFP via Getty Images

 

Almost 300 Rohingya migrants believed to have been at sea for up to six months landed in Indonesia’s Aceh province early on Monday, Indonesian authorities said.

Acehnese police said a wooden boat carrying the Rohingya was spotted by local fishermen several kilometres off the coast of Lhokseumawe, before landing at Ujung Blang beach just after midnight.

“There are 297 Rohingya according to the latest data, among them 181 women and 14 children,” Iptu Irwansya, a local police chief, told reporters in relation to the boat’s passengers.

Junaidi Yahya, head of the Red Cross in Lhokseumawe, said the group was being held in a temporary location.

“We hope they can be moved to the evacuation centre today, but their health, especially related to Covid-19, is our main concern,” said Mr Yahya.

Among the group was one sick 13-year-old, who police said was taken to hospital in an ambulance.

Images of the Rohingya arrivals show queues of women in masks carrying their possessions in plastic bags, and men huddled on the floor of a thatched-roof shelter.

Monday’s arrival follows the arrival of another vessel in late June, when Acehnese fishermen rescued more than 100 Rohingya migrants, including 79 women and children, after Indonesian authorities had initially threatened to push them back.

Fleeing persecution

Fleeing persecution in Myanmar and refugee camps in Bangladesh, the Rohingya have for years boarded boats in an attempt to seek refuge in other south Asian nations.

Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a non-profit group focusing on the Rohingya crisis, said the passengers that arrived in Aceh on Monday had set sail from southern Bangladesh at the end of March or in early April, bound for Malaysia.

But both Malaysian and Thai authorities pushed them back, she said, as borders tightened due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Smugglers originally split the passengers into several boats, some of which managed to land in Malaysia and Indonesia in June.

The smugglers called passengers’ families to demand payments in the weeks before they were taken to shore, she said. – Reuters