LHOKSEUMAWE, Indonesia – An Indonesian Navy ship was towing a boat carrying 120 Rohingya Muslims to the port on Thursday after drifting for days off the country’s northernmost province of Aceh, a navy official said.
The refugee’s wooden boat reportedly leaked and had a damaged engine. Efforts to rescue its passengers, who are largely women and children, began after the Indonesian government said on Wednesday it would allow them to dock due to the very difficult conditions on the boat.
The broken-down boat was towed by a Navy vessel early Thursday from its location about 53 miles (85 kilometers) off the coast of Bireuen, a district of Aceh, to Krueng Geukueh, a port in the neighboring district of Lhokseumawe. said the Navy’s Western Fleet. Command spokesperson Colonel La Ode M. Holib.
High waves and bad weather hampered the rescue operation and the navy vessel was moving at 5 knots (5.7 miles) per hour but was due to dock later Thursday, Holib said.
“We hope that the improved weather conditions today will allow us to save them safely,” he added.
The boat was first sighted on Sunday by local fishermen about 60 miles (96 kilometers) off the coast of Bireuen, said Badruddin Yunus, the leader of the local tribal fishing community. He said the fishermen provided food, water and clothing to passengers, including 60 women, 51 children and nine men, who said they wanted to go to Malaysia and had been at sea for 28 days before. that the boat’s engine fails.
The UN refugee agency has said it stands ready to help the Indonesian government and the local community prepare for the Rohingya, including establishing a quarantine process in line with international public health protocols amid the crisis. pandemic.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled predominantly Buddhist Myanmar to refugee camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, when the Myanmar military launched a demining operation in response to attacks by a rebel group. Burmese security forces have been accused of mass rape, murder and burning of thousands of homes.
Groups of Rohingya have attempted to leave the overcrowded camps in Bangladesh and travel by sea on dangerous voyages to other predominantly Muslim countries in the region.
Muslim-dominated Malaysia has been a common destination for boats, and traffickers have promised refugees a better life there. But many Rohingya refugees arriving in Malaysia risk detention.
Although Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951, UNHCR said a 2016 presidential regulation provides a national legal framework governing the treatment of refugees on boats in distress near the sea. ‘Indonesia and to help them disembark.
These arrangements have been in effect for years, most recently in June, when 81 Rohingya refugees were rescued off the east coast of Aceh.
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia contributed to this report.