More Rohingya refugees reach Indonesia after weeks at sea

December 27, 2022 GMT
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Ethnic Rohingya women and children sit inside an ambulance upon arrival at a temporary shelter after their boat landed in Pidie, Aceh province, Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. A second group in two days of weak and exhausted Rohingya Muslims landed on a beach in Indonesia's northernmost province of Aceh on Monday after weeks at sea, officials said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Mirza)
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Ethnic Rohingya women and children sit inside an ambulance upon arrival at a temporary shelter after their boat landed in Pidie, Aceh province, Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 26, 2022. A second group in two days of weak and exhausted Rohingya Muslims landed on a beach in Indonesia's northernmost province of Aceh on Monday after weeks at sea, officials said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Mirza)

PIDIE, Indonesia (AP) — A second group in two days of weak and exhausted Rohingya Muslims landed on a beach in Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh on Monday after weeks at sea, officials said.

At least 185 men, women and children disembarked from a rickety wooden boat at dusk on Ujong Pie beach at Muara Tiga, a coastal village in Aceh’s Pidie district, said local police chief Fauzi, who goes by a single name.

“They are very weak because of dehydration and exhaustion after weeks at sea,” Fauzi said.

A distressing video circulated widely in social media showed the 185 dehydrated and exhausted Rohingya, crumpled weakly and emaciated, many crying for help.

The 83 men, 70 women and 32 children were transferred by military trucks to a school just before midnight on Monday from a village hall where they previously received help from residents, health workers and others.

One of the refugees who spoke some Malay and identified himself as Rosyid, told The Associated Press that they left a camp in Bangladesh at the end of November and drifted on the open sea. He said at least “20 of us died aboard due to high waves and sick, and their bodies were thrown into the sea.”

Chris Lewa, the director of the Arakan Project, which works in support of Myanmar’s Rohingya, confirmed on Tuesday that the boat that landed on Ujong Pie beach on Monday was from the group of 190 Rohingya who were reported by United Nations to be drifting in a small boat in the Andaman Sea for a month.

She told AP by email that the arrivals were among four groups of Rohingya refugees that had left Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh late November by smaller boats to avoid detection by local coast guards before they were transferred onto four larger boats for their respective journeys.

A Vietnamese oil ship rescued one of the boats with more than 150 people onboard off the coast of Myanmar on Dec. 8, but then towed it to shore after provide them with food and water, Lewa said.

In Dec. 18, the second boat, carrying 104 people, was rescued by the Sri Lankan navy. Lewa said the captain of that boat last week sent a message to his relative who lives at one of the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar that the third boat may have sunk because he had received an “SOS call” from the third boat’s captain which was about to sink and asking him to transfer the passengers on his boat, but he refused as his overcrowded boat already had an engine problem and he feared that to transfer them would result in everyone sinking.

The fourth boat “finally landed in northern part of Aceh, Indonesia, in late afternoon on Monday,” Lewa said, after weeks of her organization pleading with south and southeast Asian countries to help.

The UNHCR on Friday urged countries to rescue the refugees, saying reports indicated they were in dire condition with insufficient food or water.

“Many are women and children, with reports of up to 20 people dying on the unseaworthy vessel during the journey,” the agency said.

Also in Christmas Day, another group of 58 Rohingya — all male, including 13 minors — arrived in Ladong village in Aceh Besar district.

Azharul Husna, who heads the Aceh branch of KontraS, an Indonesian rights group, said Monday that the men in the group all carried UNHCR cards from refugee camps in Bangladesh and had left in search of a better life in Malaysia.

Citing one of them, Husna said the 58 refugees left Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where more than 700,000 Rohingya from Myanmar had fled in 2017, to work on plantations in Malaysia. Their boat was damaged and the engine failed, leaving them drifting at sea until they came ashore in Aceh.

Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and burning of thousands of homes belonging to Rohingya, sending them fleeing to Bangladesh and onward.

Malaysia has been a common destination for many of the refugees arriving by boat, but they also have been detained in the country.

Although neighboring Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, the UNHCR said that a 2016 presidential regulation provides a legal framework governing the treatment of refugees on boats in distress near Indonesia and helps them disembark.

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Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.