GENEVA - UN agencies are providing medical aid and other assistance to a group of nearly 300 Rohingya refugees who have been allowed to disembark in Indonesia after being stranded at sea for more than seven months.
Reports say approximately 330 Rohingya refugees embarked on their journey in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh early this year. Their odyssey finally ended early Monday after surviving a sea journey that lasted more than seven months.
Most of the refugees are women and children. After landing in northern Aceh, Indonesia they told aid workers that more than 30 of the passengers had died en route. The UN refugee agency reports the refugees recounted the desperate conditions aboard their sea vessel and their anguish at not knowing when or if they would ever be rescued.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch tells VOA the refugees are describing a traumatic ordeal.
“It is really, really troubling that seven months, desperate refugees have been adrift in the sea without finding a safe port or safe land to disembark," said Baloch. "Refugees have told UNHCR staff that they departed Bangladesh in early February this year and tried to land repeatedly in different countries without success.”
He says UNHCR has not been able to verify details of the refugees’ accounts as yet and is continuing to seek further information.
“UNHCR has access to the refugee arrivals and is interviewing them with assistance of interpreters as required" said Baloch. "At this stage, our main priority is the safety and health of the people, which consist of many vulnerable women and children.”
UNHCR and International Organization for Migration aid workers are supporting local authorities in Aceh to assess the needs of the refugees. They are testing all arrivals for COVID-19 as required by Indonesian authorities.
The agencies say they also are providing first aid, medical and trauma care, as well as shelter, water and other essential needs.