Trapped at sea for 113 days, Rohingya boat survivors finally ran aground

Dhaka: A boat carrying dozens of Rohingya refugees that has been adrift in the Andaman Sea since February has landed on an Indonesian island after a voyage of more than 100 days.

Villagers in the Aceh province discovered the stranded boat on Friday, along with 81 survivors.

Miftach Cut Adek, the leader of the local tribal fishing community, said 90 people were on board the boat when it left the refugee camp on Feb. 11, but nine died during the 113-day trip.

The vessel sailed on February 11 from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh carrying 90 Rohingya refugees, most of them women and children, with the hope of reaching Malaysia.

The remote beach when the refugees were found is on an uninhabited island. Credit:AP

But the boat’s engine failed four days after leaving Cox’s Bazar, where refugee camps house hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled neighbouring Myanmar.

M. Ilyas, a Rohingya on the stranded boat, said they were refused entry to Malaysia because of concerns over the coronavirus. He said their boat’s engine broke down in Indian waters, and local fishermen there helped them continue their trip.

Indian authorities provided food and essential supplies to survivors but refused to let them set foot on their shores. Bangladesh, too, denied re-entry to 81 survivors.

Rohinga women and children sit by a fire on the beach of Idaman Island, off the coast of Aceh. Credit:AP

Over the last three months, international aid agencies and family members of those onboard have made repeated appeals to India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Malaysia for information about the fate of the survivors on the boat.

The engine broke down again, before the boat, carrying 49 women, 21 men and 11 children, ran aground on Idaman island in Aceh on Friday.

Salmidin, a police officer in Aceh, said local authorities were working together to process the Rohingya.

“It is an empty island and we do not know their condition, whether they are free from COVID-19 or not. We are trying to examine them now,” Salmidin said.

“We have learnt that the 81 (refugees) were fine, they landed on Idaman Island in Aceh (Indonesia),” said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a group that monitors the Rohingya crisis.

“They are not 100 per cent safe there yet. We hope they will not be pushed back,” Lewa told Reuters.

The refugees left the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh hoping to find work in Malaysia. Credit:Kate Geraghty

Dwi Prafitria, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia, told Reuters that the refugees currently don’t have a place to stay.

Authorities in Indonesia, including local police and immigration, were not immediately available for comment.

The Rohingya are a minority group, most of whom are denied citizenship by Buddhist-majority Myanmar, which considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

More than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are living in teeming camps in Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled after Myanmar’s military conducted a deadly crackdown in 2017.

Human traffickers often lure Rohingya refugees, persuading them to travel on rickety vessels with the promise of work in Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia.


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