Boat with almost 300 Rohingyas arrives in Indonesia after months at sea

Jakarta, Sep 7 (efe-epa).- A boat with 297 Rohingya refugees arrived on the coast of Aceh, northern Sumatra, Indonesia, early Monday after drifting at sea for five months, non-governmental organizations reported.

In the wooden boat were 102 men, 181 women and 14 children of the predominantly Muslim ethnic group originally from Myanmar, said Rima Shah Putra, director of the local NGO Yayasan Geutanyoe, which is working with the refugees.

The boat was heading to Malaysia, a common destination for Rohingya refugees, said Shah Putra, who added that during the long journey 30 people died and were thrown into the sea.

Survivors were evacuated to a center in the town of Lhokseumawe in Sumatra after disembarking, while two were admitted to hospital by the Indonesian Red Cross, he added.

The group is believed to be some of 800 that originally left Bangladesh together on a larger boat, according to Chris Lewa, director and founder of the NGO Arakan Project, which has been studying the migration flows of Rohingya for years.

“This mother vessel could not find a way to disembark in Malaysia and was prevented several times by both the Thai and Malaysia Navy/Air Force. It then split its passengers to disembark from smaller boats,” she told EFE.

Four boats managed to disembark in Langkawi, Malaysia, and Aceh, Indonesia, between June 7 and July 26, and “this group of 297 pax is hopefully the last,” she said.

Lewa added that the group that landed in Aceh on Monday had spent so long at sea because of “restrictions of movement due to COVID-19 and pushbacks, but also smugglers kept them hostage at sea until all paid the ransom fee.”

These rescues are reminiscent of the 2015 Southeast Asian refugee crisis, when thousands of Rohingya were adrift on boats for weeks in the region after authorities in Thailand and Malaysia dismantled the human smuggling networks that transported them from Myanmar.

The Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian coast guards initially prevented the disembarkation of those boats on their respective coasts, but a group of Acehnese fishermen rescued several vessels against the prohibition of the Indonesian Navy, before finally the authorities of the region agreed to the arrival of the refugees.

The vast majority of Rohingya are stateless people whose citizenship was taken away by the Myanmar government in the early 1990s. They have for decades been subjected to a regime of discrimination and considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite having lived in the northern state of Rakhine for generations.

In August 2017, the Myanmar army launched a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya population in Rakhine, over which the government faces a genocide charge before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The military operation prompted the exodus of more than 725,000 refugees to neighboring Bangladesh, where they remain in the world’s largest refugee camp complex along with other Rohingya who fled previous waves of violence. EFE-EPA


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