58 Rohingya Muslims land on beach in Indonesia’s Aceh

Dozens of hungry and weak Rohingya Muslims were found on a beach in Indonesia’s northern Aceh province on Sunday after weeks at sea, officials said.

The group of 58 men arrived at Indrapatra beach in Ladong, a fishing village in Aceh Besar district, early on Sunday, local police chief Rolly Yuiza Away said. Villagers who saw the group of ethnic Rohingya on a huge wooden boat helped them land and then reported their arrival to the authorities, he said.

“They look very weak from hunger and dehydration. Some of them are sick after a long and difficult journey at sea,” Away said, adding that the men received food and water from villagers and others, as they continued to receive instructions from the immigration and local officials in Aceh have been waiting.

At least three of the men were rushed to a health clinic for medical care, and others are also receiving various medical treatments, Away said.

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The United Nations and other groups on Friday urged countries in South Asia to rescue as many as 190 people believed to be Rohingya refugees aboard a small boat that has been drifting in the Andaman Sea for several weeks.

“Reports indicate that those on board have now remained at sea for a month in appalling conditions with insufficient food or water, with no efforts by states in the region to save human lives,” the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement. “Many are women and children, with reports of up to 20 people dying on the unseaworthy vessel during the journey.”

Away said it was not clear where the group came from or if they were part of the group of 190 Rohingya refugees that ran aground in the Andaman Sea. But one of the men, who spoke some Malay, said they had been at sea for more than a month and had aimed to land in Malaysia to seek a better life and work there.

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More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a clearance operation in response to attacks by a rebel group. Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of homes.

Groups of Rohingya have tried to leave the overcrowded camps in Bangladesh and travel by sea in dangerous journeys to other Muslim-majority countries in the region.

Muslim-dominated Malaysia was a common destination for the boats, and traders promised the refugees a better life there. But many Rohingya refugees who land in Malaysia face detention.

Although Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations, the UNHCR said that a 2016 presidential regulation provides a national legal framework that governs the treatment of refugees on ships in distress near Indonesia and helping them disembark.

These provisions have been enforced for years, most recently last month when some 219 Rohingya refugees, including 63 women and 40 children, were rescued off the coast of North Aceh district aboard two rickety boats.

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“We call on the government of Indonesia to rescue the boats and allow them to land safely,” said Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director Usman Hamid. “We also urge the Indonesian government to lead a regional initiative to solve the refugee crisis.”

On Thursday, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, called on governments in South and Southeast Asia to “immediately and urgently coordinate the search and rescue of this boat and the safe disembarkation of those on board to ensure before further loss of life occurs.”

“While many around the world prepare to enjoy a holiday season and ring in a new year, boats carrying desperate Rohingya men, women and young children embark on dangerous journeys in unseaworthy vessels,” Andrews said in a statement.

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Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.

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