BANDA ACEH (Indonesia): At least 69 Rohingya refugees, many of them women and children, landed on Indonesia’s west coast on Thursday in a wooden boat, an official with the United Nations refugee agency said.
The vessel came ashore at a beach in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh, according to UNHCR official Oktina Hafanti, with one passenger saying some on board died during the voyage.
It was the sixth Rohingya boat to land in Indonesia since November.
Nearly one million Rohingya currently live in crowded conditions in Bangladesh, including many of the hundreds of thousands who fled a deadly crackdown in 2017 by Myanmar’s military, which denies committing crimes against humanity.
Thousands risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys — often in poor-quality boats — attempting to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.
“We currently count 69 of them, including men, women and children,” Hafanti said.
Several died due to a lack of food and the captain abandoned them in the middle of the journey
The refugees were being transported to a temporary shelter nearby, the official added.
Hafanti said authorities would double-check the headcount after they arrived at the refuge.
Miftah Cut Ade, a senior member of the area’s traditional fishing community, told the group had arrived from Bangladesh, many in a state of exhaustion. Local residents had offered them food, he said.
According to a passenger who gave his name as Shorifuddin, the boat departed Bangladesh two weeks ago. Several people died due to a lack of food and the captain abandoned the passengers in the middle of the journey, he said.
“We have been suffering in the ocean for 15 days and all this time, we didn’t have enough food,” the 15-year-old told.
He said he fled Bangladesh with seven family members including his parents hoping for a better life in Indonesia.
“We were strongly persecuted in Bangladesh by the local people. We also didn’t have the opportunity to study and achieve higher education,” he said.
Five other vessels carrying Rohingya refugees landed in Indonesia in November and December last year, carrying a total of nearly 700 passengers.
More than 2,000 are believed to have attempted the risky journey in 2022, according to the UNHCR, a number similar to that in 2020.
The agency estimated nearly 200 Rohingya died or went missing last year attempting hazardous sea crossings.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2023