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UN Agencies Commend Indonesia's Rescue of Rohingya Refugees at Sea


A medical worker collects nasal swab sample from a Rohingya woman during a coronavirus test for ethnic Rohingya people who are stranded on Idaman Island in East Aceh, Indonesia, June 4, 2021.

U.N. agencies have commended the Indonesian government for offering a safe haven to dozens of Rohingya refugees who have been stranded at sea for months.

Ninety Rohingya embarked on their ill-fated journey from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh in the first week of February. Nine refugees reportedly had died by the time their harrowing four-month odyssey came to an end last Friday.

Spokesman for the U.N. Migration Agency Paul Dillon said the boat ran into trouble almost immediately after it set sail. He said the engine broke down leaving the group adrift at sea and putting the refugees’ lives at risk.

“They ran into engine trouble again near East Aceh last week. Local fishermen discovered their stranded vessel and brought them to safety. Upon disembarkation, the local government of Aceh officials immediately conducted rapid COVID-19 tests and COVID-19 vaccinations were subsequently provided to all of the arrivals," he said.

Dillon said his agency is providing food, drinking water and medical support to the 81 Rohingya who survived the journey. He said the group consists of 45 women, 17 men and 19 children.

U.N. refugee spokesman Babar Balloch said the UNHCR and humanitarian partners also are onsite to provide additional support and to ensure that refugee needs are met.

Rohingya Muslims rest on a beach after their boat was stranded on Idaman Island in East Aceh, Indonesia, June 4, 2021.
Rohingya Muslims rest on a beach after their boat was stranded on Idaman Island in East Aceh, Indonesia, June 4, 2021.

He notes this is not the first time Rohingya refugees at sea have been rescued by the communities and local authorities in Aceh, Indonesia. He praises them for providing a lifeline to the desperate people, noting not all nations are as humane.

“It is both a humanitarian imperative and an international obligation to provide vessels in distress with life-saving assistance and disembarkation to a place of safety…Vulnerable women, children and men should not be left to the mercy of the high seas,” said Balloch.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar in 2017. Human rights officials say thousands of refugees flee the overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar every year in hopes of achieving a better life in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.

The International Organization for Migration says roughly 1,400 Rohingya found themselves stranded at sea during the 2020 sailing season, which ended with the arrival of the monsoons in early June. It says at least 130 Rohingya are reported to have died.

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