Indonesia turns away Rohingya refugees aboard damaged boat


Indonesian authorities said it will not allow a boatload of Rohingya refugees to seek refuge in the South-east Asian country and will turn the vessel away, officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

A stranded boat packed with over 120 men, women and children Rohingya on board has been spotted by local fishermen off the coast of Bireuen, a district on the  island of Sumatra on Sunday.

“The Rohingya are not Indonesian citizens, we can’t just bring them in even as refugees. This is in line with government policy,” said Dian Suryansyah, a local navy official.

The authorities will help repair the stricken vessel and provide humanitarian aid, including food, medicine and water, before turning it away, he added.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and is predominately seen as a transit country for those seeking asylum in a third nation.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on Tuesday that the boat had suffered engine damage and should be allowed to land.

“UNHCR is concerned about the safety and lives of the refugees on board,” the statement said.

Badruddin Yunus, a local fishing community leader, said that the refugees had been at sea for 28 days and some of them had fallen ill and one had died.

Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar have for years sailed to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia between November and April when the seas are calm. Many have been turned away, despite calls for assistance by international rights groups.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said included mass killings and rape. Rights groups have documented killings of civilians and burning of Rohingya villages.

Hundreds have reached Indonesia over the last few years, after months at sea. (Source: The Straits Times)