Aceh Fishermen Rescue 68 Rohingya Asylum Seekers from Indian Ocean

By Nurdin Hasan 29 July 2013

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Fishermen rescued more than 60 Rohingya asylum seekers stranded in a boat off the coast of Aceh Jaya on Sunday—the third disabled Rohingya boat found floating in the Indian Ocean this year.

The 68 Rohingya—including a pregnant woman and two babies—told Aceh officials they boarded the boat after being threatened with deportation in Malaysia.

“The asylum seekers who could speak Malay said they departed from Malaysia four days ago and were heading to Australia to apply for asylum,” Rizal Dinata, the head of Aceh Jaya branch Indonesian Inter-Citizen Radio (RAPI), said.

Shortly after leaving Malaysia, the asylum seekers’ compass and global positioning system (GPS) were damaged, Rizal reported. The wind and currents pushed the boat toward Aceh, where it became stranded off the coast of Aceh Jaya.

The Rohingya told Rizal they fled their home villages in Burma’s coastal Arakan region amid a recent surge in anti-Muslim violence. They spent several days in Malaysia before deciding to chance the perilous journey to Australia’s Christmas Island.

The asylum seekers were in good health and fasting for the holy month of Ramadan, Rizal said. Some had Bangladesh citizenship, one was Vietnamese, Rizal said.

“There are two people who were sick and they were taken to Teuku Umar Calang General Hospital [and admitted to] intensive care,” he said.

The others were transported to an orphanage in Calang, Aceh Jaya, overseen by the local Social Affairs Office. Immigration officials from Meulaboh, West Aceh, interviewed the asylum seekers and collected data.

Asylum seeker boats continue to arrive in Indonesia despite Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s implementation of a hard-line immigration policy that shut the nation’s doors to even “legitimate refugees.”

Under the new policy, all asylum seekers, regardless of their circumstances, will be settled in neighboring Papua New Guinea—a controversial move that has garnered criticism from human rights groups.

In early April, 76 Rohingya asylum seekers were found in a disabled boat off Pulo Aceh. In February, 121 Rohingya were rescued off the coast of North Aceh.

The number of asylum seekers fleeing Burma has increased eight-fold in Indonesia’s Aceh province since 2009 as hard-line Buddhists launched a violent campaign targeting Burma’s Muslim minority.