866 Rohingya refugees leave Bangladesh by sea to Indonesia

Five boats carrying 866 Rohingya refugees have landed in parts of Indonesia’s Aceh province in the past week, facing mixed reception from locals, the UN refugee agency and local police said.

Three of the boats arrived on Sunday, carrying 525 refugees. They landed in different locations in Aceh.

Two hundred and forty nine of the boat passengers had been turned away by villagers at two sites last Thursday before they were finally allowed to come ashore after an urgent appeal by the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

Mitra Salima Suryono, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Indonesia, said that the refugees had spent between a month and two months on the open water after setting sail from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

“Rohingya refugees are once again risking their lives in search of solutions,’’ Ann Maymann, the head of UNHCR in Indonesia, said in a statement.

“Perilous journeys are undertaken by those who see no opportunity and who have lost hope. As global crises multiply and humanitarian resources dwindle, we must act immediately to save lives, but also urgently to expand solutions,’’ said Maymann.

Some Acehnese fishermen and villagers welcomed the refugees, who arrived in three waves on November 14, 15 and 19, and provided them with food, shelter and medical care.

But locals in two locations turned away one of the boats on Thursday, citing their previous unpleasant experience with some of them, including “unruly’’ behaviour and fleeing camps, local police said.

The Indonesian Government, which has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, has been largely absent in handling the situation, leaving the fate of the refugees uncertain.

Activists urged the central and provincial authorities to allow the refugees to disembark, offer them humanitarian assistance, safety and protection, and respect the principle of non-refoulement.

This prohibits sending refugees back to a place where they face danger.

“Indonesia is obliged to help them. The policy of returning them to their country of origin clearly violates the non-refoulement principle, the basic principle of civilized nations,’’ said Usman Hamid.

Hamid is the executive director of Amnesty International in Indonesia.

About one million Rohingya have taken shelter in crowded and squalid camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, since 2017, when a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state forced them to flee.

Many of them have taken the risky sea route to seek a better life in other countries. (dpa/NAN)