Friday May 24, 2024

Fleeing persecution, 200 Rohingya Muslims reach Indonesia

January 09, 2023

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia: A wooden boat carrying nearly 200 Rohingya refugees, a majority of them women and children, landed on Indonesia’s western coast on Sunday, police said.

The ship is the fifth boat carrying Rohingya refugees to land in Indonesia since November, according to authorities. Thousands of the mostly Muslim Rohingya, heavily persecuted in Myanmar, risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys -- often in poor-quality boats -- in an attempt to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.

The wooden vessel -- which carried 69 men, 75 women and 40 children -- arrived at around 02:30 pm local time (0730 am GMT) on a beach in Indonesia´s westernmost province of Aceh, local police chief Irwan Fahmi Ramli said Sunday.

“They are generally healthy, but there is one pregnant woman among them, and four people are sick,” Ramli said. “We had coordinated with doctors who will come here to conduct an initial health check of these refugees, particularly those who are sick.” He added that the refugees will be transferred to a local government facility.

According to one of the passengers, the boat departed Bangladesh on December 10. “We feel very happy because we arrived here. Already, our engine is damaged and also we don´t have food in the boat,” 26-year-old Fairus told reporters.

Around a million Rohingya were estimated to be living in refugee camps in Bangladesh after they fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017. Four vessels carrying Rohingya refugees have already landed in Indonesia in November and December last year, carrying a total of more than 400 passengers.

More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the risky journey in 2022, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR -- at levels similar to 2020. The agency estimated nearly 200 Rohingya have died or remain missing after attempting hazardous sea crossings last year.

But the figure could rise after relatives of around 180 Rohingya refugees that were on another vessel drifting at sea for weeks lost contact and were feared dead. The UNHCR could not confirm their deaths.

But spokesman Babar Baloch said if true, it would make 2022 the deadliest year for Rohingya crossings since 2013 and 2014, when more than 900 and 700 were reported dead or missing respectively. Relatively affluent Malaysia is a favoured destination for the refugees, but many land first in Muslim-majority Indonesia, seen as more welcoming.