Indonesia will accept a boat of Rohingya refugees – mostly women and children – after initially sending them to Malaysian waters and giving them supplies, according to local authorities.
Change of heart: Indonesia’s security ministry said the Southeast Asian country will allow nearly 120 people, including 60 women and 51 children, to take refuge after the situation gained domestic and international attention.
- “Today, the Indonesian government decided, in the name of humanity, to give refuge to Rohingya refugees currently afloat on a boat near Biereun district, Aceh,” Armed Wijaya, an official at Indonesia’s chief security ministry, said in a statement.
- “The decision was made after considering the emergency conditions the refugees are experiencing onboard the boat.”
What happened: The refugees’ stranded wooden vessel, first spotted about 70 nautical miles off the Indonesian shore over the weekend, as told to Agence France-Presse (AFP) by local fishing community leader Badruddin Yunus.
- Yunus said the boat suffered a broken engine and was stranded off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh Province, adding that the refugees could not seek help due to the language barrier. Local authorities reportedly provided the refugees with supplies, clothes and fuel as they initially made their way to Malaysia. They also had a technician repair the boat.
- Navy official Dian Suryansyah initially said one of the reasons the army could not bring the Rohingya in as refugees is because they are not Indonesian citizens, adding, “This is in line with government policy,” Al Jazeera reported.
- This isn’t the first time Indonesian fishermen have had an encounter with Rohingya refugees. In June 2020, local fishermen rescued nearly 100 Rohingya stranded in Aceh Province after Indonesian officials declared they would send the refugees away. The fishermen said it was their moral duty to help the Rohingya, according to Reuters.
- “It is nothing more than a sense of humanity and part of our tradition in the north Aceh fishermen community,” local fisherman Hamdani Yacob said at the time. “We hope that the refugees will be looked after in our village.”
International call: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and several international nongovernmental organizations, including Amnesty International, called on the Indonesian government to let the Rohingya seek refuge in the country.
- “[Indonesia’s] decision to send a stricken boat back to Malaysia is unconscionable… international law clearly imposes obligations on states including Indonesia to protect human rights of refugees arriving on their shores,” Amnesty International’s Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid told Al Jzeera from Jakarta.
- Hamid also said Indonesia’s COVID-19 as another reason behind choosing not to help the refugees is wrong, adding, “I think Indonesia can still apply strict rules of health protocol in order to prevent the disease or the spread of the disease without pushing them back to the high seas.”
- In a statement on Tuesday, the UNHCR expressed concern about the refugees and the condition of their leaking boat, saying it poses a risk of capsizing due to bad weather, The Guardian reported.
- “UNHCR is deeply concerned for the safety and lives of those onboard,” the UNHCR’s statement read. “To prevent needless loss of life, we strongly urge the Indonesian government to allow safe disembarkation immediately.”
- Since August 2017, some 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape genocide carried out by the Myanmar military. The United Nations described the incident in the Southeast Asian country as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”