Stranded Rohingya rescued by Indonesian fishermen
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: Five Rohingya stranded at sea for almost three weeks have been rescued by Indonesian fishermen but several others died during the harrowing ordeal, officials said Friday, with the UN refugee agency saying it was “alarmed” at the deaths.
News of the rescue comes several days after the arrival in Malaysia of another boat carrying dozens of members of the persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar.
The group of two men, aged 28 and 33, a 20-year-old woman, a 15-year-old girl and an eight-year old boy were spotted Monday in a small boat off the coast of southern Thailand and Myanmar, some 325 kilometers (176 miles) from Aceh province in Muslim-majority Indonesia.
The fishermen took them back to Aceh on Sumatra island and the group arrived early Friday.
“They were immediately brought to a local hospital for treatment as they were weak,” Abdul Musafir, head of the East Aceh search and rescue team, told AFP.
They were released Friday afternoon into the custody of immigration officials for questioning, Musafir said.
The group said they had been traveling with some two dozen other Rohingya but got separated, according to authorities.
East Aceh police said the rescued five were stranded at sea for about 20 days while five others had starved to death and their bodies were thrown overboard.
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said it was sending staff to Aceh to provide assistance to the refugees and Indonesian authorities.
“UNHCR is alarmed at reports that five or more Rohingya refugees may have died at sea before their vessel, carrying five survivors, was rescued,” it said in a statement.
The agency said it was trying to make contact with the dozens of Rohingya who came ashore in Malaysia this week, and pointed to “unconfirmed reports” that suggested other small vessels carrying refugees from Myanmar may be at sea.
“We are concerned for their safety and hope they will be rescued and allowed to disembark to the nearest place of safety,” UNHCR added.
It has been rare for Rohingya migrants to attempt the sea routes south since Thai authorities clamped down on regional trafficking networks in 2015, sparking a crisis across Southeast Asia as large numbers were abandoned at sea.
But there have been concerns desperate migrants might start taking to the high seas again after mainly Buddhist Myanmar launched a new crackdown last year that forced about 700,000 members of the Muslim minority to flee to Bangladesh.
In 2015 hundreds of Rohingya came ashore in Aceh, where they were welcomed in the staunchly conservative Islamic province.
Indonesia tends to accept asylum seekers but they are usually barred from working and often spend years in immigration centers.