Indonesian officials have said that more than 180 Rohingya refugees landed in the country’s western Aceh province, the latest among hundreds who have fled by boat from desperate conditions in Myanmar and in camps in Bangladesh.
Thousands of people from the mostly Muslim ethnic group that has been heavily persecuted in Myanmar risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys, in an attempt to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia or Indonesia. The number of these perilous journeys – often in poor-quality boats – increases especially between November and April, when the seas are calm.
A spokesperson for the local police in Aceh confirmed to Reuters news agency by phone that 184 Rohingya had arrived in East Aceh district on Monday and were “all in healthy condition”.
Miftah Cut Ade, a senior member of the local fishing community in Aceh, said 90 women and children were among the refugees who arrived at about 3:30am (20:30 GMT).
It was not immediately clear how many vessels they were on, but Nasri, the head of Peureulak subdistrict who, like many Indonesians, goes only by one name, told AFP news agency that “there was no boat on the beach when they arrived”.
At least five people were taken to hospital, while others were taken to a mosque compound for shelter, food and medical treatment, he added.
According to one of the passengers, they were dropped offshore and told to swim to land by the boat’s captain.
“After that, the ship we were on immediately left,” Ali, a Rohingya refugee, told Indonesian state news agency Antara. The refugees were trying to reach Malaysia from Myanmar, said Ali.
Local officials said they were in talks with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration about shelter for the refugees.
Since November last year, Indonesia has registered 918 Rohingya who reached Aceh, its westernmost region, after making the journey south in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, according to the foreign ministry. That compared to 180 in the whole of 2021.
The UNHCR said 2022 may have been one of the deadliest years at sea in almost a decade for the Rohingya.
Nearly 800,000 Rohingya fled their homeland in Myanmar in 2017 after a brutal military crackdown during which thousands of them were killed, raped or had their properties torched as part of a scorched-earth campaign.
Tens of thousands had taken shelter in Bangladesh even before the 2017 crackdown that UN investigators said was carried out with “genocidal intent”. The Rohingya left in Myanmar suffer segregation and widespread discrimination as well as having their citizenship revoked. Rights groups say the measures amount to apartheid.
Last week, a delegation from Myanmar visited the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district – home to more than one million Rohingya – to interview potential candidates for their return as early as next month. The plan, which is meant to be a “pilot project” to repatriate 1,000 refugees, has been met with scepticism, with rights campaigners calling it a “PR campaign”.