Dozens of “dehydrated and exhausted” Rohingya refugees – all males – landed on the coast of Aceh Besar regency in Indonesia on Christmas Sunday after being at sea for about a month, local officials said.
The FB Tarikul Islam 2, the boat carrying the 57 men, sprang a leak and its engine broke down, Aceh provincial police spokesman Winardy said. The wooden boat came ashore at Indra Patra beach in Ladong, a village in Aceh Besar.
“They were forced to land and rest in Ladong because the boat’s hull was leaking and they ran out of food,” Winardy told BenarNews, an online news service affiliated with Radio Free Asia.
“Generally, they were dehydrated and exhausted,” he said.
The 57 men were not part of a group of close to 200 Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants who were stranded on another boat believed to be drifting in waters north of Aceh province, according to an Indonesian NGO.
As many as 20 people aboard the other boat have reportedly died at sea.
Meanwhile, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said it had received unconfirmed reports “of a separate boat – with 180 Rohingya, missing in the sea.”
“Relatives have lost contact. Those last in touch presume all are dead. We hope against hope this is not the case,” the agency’s Asia-Pacific office said in a message posted via Twitter on Christmas Eve.
Every year, hundreds of Rohingya undertake perilous crossings as they journey southward across the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in fleeing sprawling refugee camps along Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar or their home state of Rakhine in Myanmar, where members of the stateless minority are persecuted.
UNHCR earlier this month said it had recorded a six-fold increase in Rohingya undertaking such dangerous and illicit sea journeys this year, compared with 2021.
“They look very weak from hunger and dehydration. Some of them are sick after a long and severe voyage at sea,” the Associated Press quoted Rolly Yuiza away, the local police chief, as saying in referring to the people who arrived in Aceh Besar on Sunday morning.
Winardy, the spokesman for provincial police, said four of the men on the boat were sick from dehydration.
The secretary for the regency’s administration, Sulaimi, said there were no women or children aboard the boat that drifted ashore in this corner of Aceh, a province at the northwestern tip of Sumatra island.
“Based on the information received, the Rohingya immigrants have been drifting at sea for about a month,” Sulaimi said.
Telmaizul Syatri, who heads the immigration office in Aceh, said the refugees would be temporarily housed at a local government facility, Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
Meanwhile, the head of the Aceh branch of the Indonesian human rights group KontraS, Azharul Husna, said the group was not part of a group of 190 Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants known to be stranded at sea in recent weeks.
“This was a different boat. This boat sailed from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, according to one of the refugees and also the ID cards they held. They already have UNHCR cards. They ran away from Cox’s Bazar. They are all Rohingya,” Azharul told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service.
She said they left Bangladesh on Nov. 28, bound for Malaysia. But because the boat was damaged and its engine had died, it drifted at sea until finally coming ashore in Aceh Besar.
The boat arrived in the regency two days after UNHCR again implored governments in South and Southeast Asia to move swiftly to rescue the people on the other boat carrying nearly 200 people.
“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,” Indrika Ratwatte, UNHCR’s director for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement Friday,
The U.N. agency cited reports indicating that the people on board had been at sea for a month amid dire conditions and with insufficient food and water.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a human rights group that advocates for rights for the stateless Rohingya people, told BenarNews late Sunday that she had been in touch with relatives of people on that boat earlier in the day. She obtained from them its latest GPS coordinates, which put the vessel in waters north of Aceh.
Authorities in Indonesia, however, are not actively searching the country’s territorial waters around Aceh by sea or air for any boatloads of Rohingya in distress, an official in North Aceh regency, told BenarNews on Saturday.
He said officials in Aceh were monitoring the provincial coastline and would “pick up” any Rohingya boats spotted within 100 meters from shore.
In recent months and years, other boatloads of stateless Rohingya Muslim refugees have landed in North Aceh during their attempts to reach Malaysia or Indonesia, both Islamic-majority countries.
And as of Christmas Sunday, it remained unclear whether the coast guard and authorities in nearby Malaysia were actively searching for any such boats stranded at sea. On Saturday and Sunday, Malaysian officials did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages from BenarNews.
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