Over 300 Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar arrive in Indonesia's Aceh region after weeks at sea

ACEH BESAR, Indonesia (AP) — Two boats carrying more than 300 Rohingya Muslims, including emaciated women and children, arrived at Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh on Sunday morning after being adrift for weeks.

One boat, which had been at sea for about one and a half months and carrying 135 people, arrived at a beach in Lamreh village in Aceh Besar Regency. The boat held 65 women, 35 men, 20 girls and 15 boys.

“The boat was sinking. We had no food or water left,” said Shahidul Islam, 34. He said they had left their refugee camp in Bangladesh.

But residents around the beach in Lamreh village hesitated to have the refugees near their homes. The residents took the 135 refugees in four trucks to the Aceh governor's office in the city of Banda Aceh Sunday night.

The other boat carrying 180 people — 74 women, 53 men, 27 girls and 26 boys — arrived at a beach in Blang Raya village in Pidie Regency. It had been adrift in the Andaman Sea without adequate supplies for about 27 days.

Mahmud Husein, 25, a survivor, said he gave the boat owner 40,000 taka ($363) to help him leave Bangaldesh.

“We came to Indonesia, but we want to go to other countries if they want to help us,” Husein said.

Another boat, carrying more refugees, embarked from Bangaldesh at the same time, Husein confirmed, but it remained missing. The U.N. refugee agency warned that people onboard could die if more was not done to rescue them.

About 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, following a brutal counterinsurgency campaign. Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of Rohingya homes, and international courts are considering whether their actions constitute genocide.

Since November, more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees have arrived by boat in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Some were denied landing by the residents in Aceh Utara district and Sabang island, sparking concerns from human rights organizations.

Rijalul Fitri, head of Blang Raya village in Aceh, said Sunday they did not want the refugees in their village. “We stayed up all night so as not to allow them to dock, but at 2:30 a.m., they arrived,” he said.

Fitri was adamant about the refugees’ relocation, saying, “They can’t stay here.”

President Joko Widodo on Friday said in a statement that Indonesia’s government suspected a surge in human trafficking because of the increasing number of Rohingya Muslims who entered the country over the past few weeks, especially in Aceh.

Police in the city of Lohkseumawe, where there is a camp for Rohingya Muslim refugees, arrested three Aceh residents for alleged human trafficking. They were charged with taking 1.8 million rupiah (about $115), to smuggle 30 refugees from the camp to the city of Medan in North Sumatra province, said Henki Ismanto, the Lhokseumawe police chief.

Most of the refugees leaving by sea attempt to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia in search of work. Indonesia, where Muslims comprise nearly 90% of the country’s 277 million people, has been detaining them.


Tarigan reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.