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News / Nation & World

A wooden boat carrying dozens of Rohingya Muslim refugees capsizes off Indonesia’s coast

Published: March 20, 2024, 8:24am

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) — A wooden boat carrying dozens of Rohingya Muslims capsized off Indonesia’s northernmost coast on Wednesday, according to local fishermen who rescued six people. The survivors said more people were still on the boat.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The six, four women and two men, were moved to a temporary shelter in the Samatiga sub-district. The fishermen told The Associated Press the refugees’ boat capsized about 16 miles (25 Kilometers) from the coastline of Kuala Bubon Beach in Aceh province.

Amiruddin, a tribal fishing community leader in Aceh Barat district, said those rescued indicated that the boat was sailing east when it started leaking and then strong currents pushed it toward the west of Aceh. The six said others were still trying to survive on the capsized craft.

About 740,000 Rohingya were resettled in Bangladesh to escape the brutal counterinsurgency campaign by security forces in their homeland of Myanmar.

Thousands have been trying to flee overcrowded camps in Bangladesh to neighboring countries with Indonesia seeing a spike in refugee numbers since November which prompted it to call on the international community for help. Rohingya arriving in Aceh face some hostility from some fellow Muslims.

Indonesia, like Thailand and Malaysia, is not a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention outlining their legal protections, and so is not obligated to accept them. However, they have so far provided temporary shelter to refugees in distress.

Last year, nearly 4,500 Rohingya — two-thirds of them women and children — fled their homeland of Myanmar and the refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh by boat, the United Nations refugee agency reported. Of those, 569 died or went missing while crossing the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, the highest death toll since 2014.

Returning safely to Myanmar is virtually impossible because the military that attacked them overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government in 2021. No country has offered them any large-scale resettlement opportunities.