Hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees stranded at sea for more than six months after repeatedly being denied port by regional authorities were rescued on Monday by local fishermen in Aceh, Indonesia, officials said.
The rescue was carried out around midnight after the fishermen spotted the refugees near Ujong Blang Beach in Aceh, according to human rights groups. Two of the 300 or so passengers, who included 14 children, were taken to the hospital. Around 30 were reported to have died over the boat’s long months at sea.
Before the rescue, the fishermen contacted Indonesian officials, who had earlier prevented the boat from docking. In June, a separate boat with Rohingya refugees was also rescued by Indonesian fishermen after the authorities initially threatened to turn them away.
The Rohingya refugee crisis intensified in 2017 when the Buddhist-majority military in Myanmar unleashed what the United Nations has described as a campaign with genocidal intent. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya poured across Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh, bringing accounts of massacre and rape.
In the years since, the bulging refugee camps in Bangladesh have become places of misery and predation, and many Rohingya have set out for other countries, dismissing promises from the authorities in Myanmar that it is safe for them to return.
“Rohingya refugees are still willing to risk everything in search of safety,” Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, said in a statement on Monday. “It is appalling that the Indonesian authorities are waiting for local fishermen to take the initiative in carrying out these rescues. The government, not private individuals, should have saved these lives.”
Last spring as the coronavirus spread across the globe, hundreds of Rohingya refugees set out on boats from southern Bangladesh for Malaysia and were pushed back by both Malaysian and Thai authorities in part because of pandemic-related restrictions, rights groups have said.
In May, the United Nations warned that measures to prevent the spread of the disease “should not result in the closure of avenues to asylum, or in forcing people to either return to situations of danger or seek to land clandestinely, without health screening or quarantine.”
The Indonesian government pledged to work with the United Nations to ensure the well-being of the nearly 300 refugees rescued on Monday and to provide shelter.