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Rohingya Boats Find Shelter in Indonesia’s Aceh Region

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Up to 525 Rohingya refugees have been allowed to disembark in western Indonesia’s Aceh province after three boats landed there after weeks at sea. 250 people on a boat reached the province’s coast but were pushed back by villagers before being allowed to come ashore after an urgent appeal by UNHCR.

The landings brought the total number of Rohingya who have arrived in Aceh aboard five people-smuggling boats since last Monday. The boats had spent between a month to two months on the open water after setting sail from Cox’s Bazar, in southeastern Bangladesh. The district is home to sprawling camps housing about 1 million stateless Rohingya Muslim refugees from the nearby Rakhine in Myanmar. Some of the 241 Rohingya who disembarked from the boat in Pidie regency looked famished, sick, and exhausted, according to a local fishermen’s association representative.

Indonesian police have halted the boatload of Rohingya refugees who were stranded at sea in Aceh, Indonesia, after two other boatloads had arrived in the region. The Rohingya, who are majority-Muslim, often pay human smugglers money to embark on the dangerous sea journey from Cox’s Bazar. The fishermen’s association Panglima Laot, which accepted the Rohingya for humanitarian reasons, criticized the decision to force them back to their country of origin.

Amnesty International’s executive director in Indonesia, Usman Hamid, called the policy irresponsible and criticized the non-refoulement principle, a basic pillar of the life of civilized nations. Jakarta called for regional cooperation to conduct rescue operations for Rohingya stranded at sea in January 2023, ensuring that Indonesia would not bear the burden of this task disproportionately. The incident highlights the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Indonesia and the need for regional cooperation to ensure the safety and well-being of Rohingya refugees.

Indonesia does not grant asylum or legal status to refugees, leaving them in temporary shelters or detention centers with no access to education or jobs. Human rights groups argue that the number of Rohingya leaving for third countries highlights the dire conditions in southeastern Bangladesh and the deteriorating situation in post-coup Myanmar. Many Rohingya have grown desperate due to the lack of hope of repatriation to Myanmar, which has been violent since the February 2021 coup. 2022 was the deadliest year since 2014 for Rohingya attempting sea voyages, with at least 348 deaths or missing at sea.

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