Leaking boat containing more than 100 Rohingya refugees was towed ashore in Indonesia last December 2021; days after the government reversed an earlier decision to turn the stranded vessel away.
This was good news for a mostly stateless ethnic minority whose members have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh for years. Hundreds of other Rohingya have died trying to make similar journeys.
Human rights groups said that 120 fleeing Rohingya most of them are children and women were at sea for about one month. Their boat leaked due to strong wind and big waves. The local fishermen and community leaders spotted the vessel called for the government to save refugees whose vessels are in danger of sinking in Indonesian waters. The United Nations refugee agency as well had called on Indonesia to allow the vessel to dock immediately.
Officials in Aceh had said that they would help repair the boat and provide food and medicine to its passengers, but that it would not be allowed ashore. “The Rohingya are not Indonesian citizens, we can’t just bring them in even as refugees,”
Following UN agencies and the human rights community’s efforts pushing and urging the government to honor international refugee conventions and the domestic regulations that require the government to save refugees, officials from the central government said the boat would be allowed to dock after all. The refugees disembarked, after fishermen and Navy officers towed their boat for hours through bad weather and strong waves.
The Indonesian Head of a government refugee task force said that this was a humanitarian decision considering the emergency conditions experienced by the refugees on board.
Rohingya fled an ethnic cleansing campaign in Myanmar
It is well known that Rohingya people made dangerous journeys across the Andaman Sea in recent years when more than three-quarters of a million Rohingya fled an ethnic cleansing campaign in Myanmar.
In several cases, boats carrying Rohingya have drifted on open seas after being turned away from land. Last year, Bangladeshi Coast Guard officers rescued one such boat and found hundreds of malnourished and dehydrated people who had been kept in the boat’s hold by human traffickers.
As per UNHCR, there were about 220 deaths of Rohingya in 6 months (2020) during the deadly voyage to Indonesia, Bangladish and Malesia.
The agency said in the report that the prevalence of deaths on such journeys was rising because refugees were spending longer periods in limbo in open water. Their vessels tend to be poorly equipped, inadequately stocked with essential supplies and crewed by smugglers who abuse passengers, the agency said.
We emphasise our shock that the Indonesian government has known about this from the beginning, but they took no action. Thanks to advocacy groups, leader communities, and fishermen’s efforts and pressure leading to saving Rohingya Refugees.