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Dozens of starving and weak Rohingya refugees have been found washed up on a beach in Indonesia’s northern Aceh province 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 Sunday, according to local police chief Rolly Yuiza Away.
Villagers who saw the men from the mostly Muslim ethnic group on a rickety 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 also received various medical treatments, Away said.
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 immediately clear where the group came from or whether they were part of the group of 190 Rohingya refugees that sailed 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.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have been displaced from Buddhist-majority Myanmar into refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when Myanmar’s 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.
Widely viewed by the state as interlopers from Bangladesh, the Rohingya are denied citizenship—along with access to health care and education—and often require permission to travel.
Thousands of Rohingya risk their lives every year, making dangerous journeys to travel to other Muslim-majority countries in the region.
The UNHCR said earlier this month that there had been a “dramatic” increase in such journeys, partly due to worsening conditions in the refugee camps they are confined to in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.
An estimated 1,920 mostly Rohingya people left Myanmar and Bangladesh by sea between January and November this year, compared with just 287 in 2021, according to UNHCR.
Malaysia was a common destination for the boats, and while traffickers promise the refugees a better life there, many of them who land in the country are detained.
Although Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations, 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.
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.