Wednesday, March 6, 2013


    Jakarta, March 6, 2013 (Antara) - Two wooden boats with no engine and carrying a total of 284 Rohingya refugees including women and children, were separately found adrift in Aceh waters by Aceh fishermen respectively on February 26 and 28, 2013.
         To rescue the hydrated, weak and starving Rohingya Muslims, local fishermen had to pull the boats up to 12 hours from the middle of the sea onto Aceh's shore.  

    The first wooden boat measuring 18 x 5 meters with 121 people including six women and two children on board was discovered by fishermen about  150 miles from the Lhokseumawe coast, Indonesia's northern most province of Aceh, on February 26, 2013.

         With the help of the local fishermen, they finally landed in Cot Trueng coast, Muara Batu sub district, North Aceh District, in the evening, after sailing from Myanmar since February 19, 2013.
         The Aceh police have conducted an identification process of the 121 refugees. "They did not want to go to Indonesia actually, but to Malaysia," Elvina, the commander of the Aceh police's identification team, told on March 4, 2013.
         On their way to Malaysia, they were nabbed by the Thai Navy and later were pushed out to the middle of the sea, the Rohingya people told the Aceh police. 
    "All their belongings were thrown away, and their boat was left afloat in the sea until they were finally stranded in Indonesian waters," Elvina said.
         The 121 refugees are currently being handled by the International Organization for Migration representative office in Indonesia as of March 1, 2013, according to Albert, a local immigration officer of Punteut, Lhokseumawe, Aceh.    
    "Now, the IOM is handling them. We do not know where the IOM will take them later," he said.
         On February 28, 2013, two days after the first group landed in Aceh, Aceh fishermen again found a wooden boat carrying 63 Rohingya refugees consisting of 14 children under seven years, nine under 17 years old, 10 women, and 30 men, in East Aceh waters.
         The asylum seekers were weak and starving when they were discovered by the local fishermen who later pulled the boat to Kuala Idi village, East Aceh District, or around 100 miles from the location where the boat was floating in the sea.     
    The Aceh immigration authorities are currently accommodating them in Langsa, around 480 km east of Banda Aceh while waiting for IOM officers to check the asylum seekers.
         Abdul Hakim, one of the 63 refugees, said they wanted to go to Malaysia, but on the way after having been sailing for 23 days on 15 x 3 meter boat from Myanmar, their boat was ambushed by a Thai patrol boat.    
    "The machine of our boat was removed and discarded and our food stocks were confiscated and dropped into the sea," he said.
         "We are afraid to return to our country. Our homes have been burnt down there and many members of our families were killed. We hope that the UNHCR would not repatriate us," Abdul Hakim, 52, said in Langsa, on March 2, 2013.
         "We left Myanmar to look for safety, we want to live peacefully," Along, 23, another refugee, said.
         Various parties, including Aceh people, Indonesian Red Cross and the Aceh administration have provided relief aid such as food, clothes and medicines, for the Rohingya Muslims.
         "They are our brothers and sisters, too. They are currently suffering because of the regime in their country, and other countries have refused to accept them," Ikhsan Ahyat, an officer of the East Aceh social affairs office, said recently.
         Aceh provincial legislator Fuady Sulaiman has expressed his appreciation to the Aceh government for  helping the Rohingya people. He urged the authorities not to deport them until a third country is willing to accept them.
         "Don't deport them before a third country is willing to accommodate them. During the process, please let them stay in Indonesia," the lawmaker said, urging the Aceh administration to show their solidarity toward the Rohingya Muslims who are oppressed in their own country - Myanmar.
         NGO International Concern Group for Rohingya (ICGR) has urged concerned UN bodies to grant refugee status to Rohingya people who are currently regarded as illegal immigrants being stranded in Aceh Province.
         The United Nations, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should also soon carry out an identification process of the Rohingya people in Aceh Province, ICGR Secretary M Adli Abdullah said in Banda Aceh recently.
         Abdullah also urged the Indonesian government to help them and regard them as refugees, not as illegal immigrants.
         He said refugees continued to flow out of Myanmar's Rakhine (Arakan) Province because the ethnic conflict in the province is not yet fully solved.
         The Myanmar government must treat its people equally despite their races or ethnicity and religions, he said, adding that the international community must also push the Myanmar government to stop the ethnic conflict and genocide.
         Over the past five years, at least  six  groups of Rohingya asylum seekers have stranded in Aceh. The previous ones were in January 2009, when 197 Rohingya people landed in Sabang waters, and again 127 refugees in Idi Rayeuk, East Aceh District, in the same year.
         And in February 2012, 54 Rohingya people were rescued from Krueng Geukuh waters, North Aceh.
         An estimated 800,000 Rohingya live in Buddhist-majority Myanmar's Rakhine State but they are not eligible for citizenship. The United Nations considers the minority to be among the most persecuted people in the world.
         Rakhine was the scene of bloody communal clashes between June and October that left more than 100 dead and displaced up to 75,000 people, the majority of them Rohingya.
         Xinhua news agency reported last February that a total of 5,899 Rohingya migrants have illegally entered Thailand by sea on 48 occasions since October last year.
         Lt-Gen Dithaporn Sasasamit, Thailand's Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), was quoted by the Bangkok Post online as saying, of that number, and 1,752 men, women and children are still in Thailand. Others have been pushed out. ***4***

(T.F001/A/F. Assegaf/Bustanuddin) 06-03-2013 16:48:12

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