Indonesia Accepts Stranded Boat Carrying Rohingya Refugees

A boat carrying around 120 Rohingya refugees became stranded off Indonesia’s Biere District, Aceh. The boat was found on Sunday, according to Badruddin Yunus, a leader of the Biereun fishing community. 

Officials prevented local fishermen from helping the boat, according to a community leader. Local legal aids also told BenarNews that they were afraid to assist due to the possibility of prosecution. Meanwhile, international aid agencies such as Amnesty International have been urging the Indonesian government to allow the boat to land. The boat had two leaks, which flooded the vessel with water and put it at great risk of sinking. According to Reuters, a video shows dozens of people packed onto a deck of a wooden skiff. 

On December 29th, Indonesia announced that it would provide the boat with docking privileges, food, and medicine. However, it will not allow them to seek refuge in the nation and their shelter will be temporary. Armed Wijaya, an official at Indonesia’s chief ministry, said in a statement that “the Indonesian government decided, in the name of humanity, to give refuge to Rohingya refugees currently afloat on a boat near Biereun district, Aceh” and, “the decision was made after considering the emergency conditions the refugees are experiencing onboard the boat.” It is also noted that most passengers on board are women and children. 

Jessica Washington, reporting from Jakarta, says that the move is not completely a surprise, as Indonesia took hundreds of Rohingya refugees last year. However, the nation is not a signatory of the UN Convention on Refugees and should not be seen as a permanent resettlement destination. 

For many years, Rohingya refugees have been fleeing Myanmar to nearby countries, such as Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, but have consistently been turned away. The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. There were around one million in 2017, before the Rohingya crisis. BBC reports that “they have their own language and culture and are descendants of Arab traders and others who have been in the region for generations.”

In August of 2017, a widespread, violent crackdown by the Myanmar government led to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing a textbook example of “ethnic cleansing.” 

Ann Maymann, a UN representative in Jakarta, states that “We are extremely grateful to the Indonesian government … it is a decision that we have not seen other governments take with regard to other boats.” The decision to allow the refugees to disembark is a great victory for international human rights. It sets a great example for other countries that may be receiving refugees in the coming years.