JAKARTA, Indonesia

Indonesian fishermen on Tuesday spotted a boat carrying Rohingya refugees off the country’s northwestern coast, sparking calls for urgent rescue efforts.

The boat was seen in the Malacca Strait, some 80 to 100 miles near the Aceh province’s waters, according to Miftach Cut Adek, deputy secretary general of Aceh Sea Commander.

He told Anadolu Agency that the refugees were on their way to Malaysia.

“We cannot confirm how many of them aboard, but they are on a large boat,” he said, adding that the fishermen were too far away from the refugee boat to approach it.

“Fishermen usually help them [refugees] when they get nearer to land.”

Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, urged Indonesian authorities to urgently rescue the Rohingya refugees adrift off the coast of Aceh.

“We’ve received reports that border patrols have instructions to turn these refugees away. This is unconscionable,” he said, adding that pushing the boat back would violate the country’s international obligations.

Now that they have been alerted to boats in distress, he said, the authorities must immediately rescue, disembark the passengers, provide them with shelter, and ensure their safety.

Hamid said that ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations – countries are failing to help Rohingya who have fled persecution in Myanmar and the hardships of refugee camps in Bangladesh.

“The Rohingya community’s suffering is a regional issue in need of a humane regional response in line with international law,” he added.

Hamid said Indonesia set an example for regional counterparts when it allowed Rohingya ships onto its shores twice this year.

In September, Indonesia took in 297 Rohingya refugees who landed in Lhokseumawe city in Aceh province, after allowing 99 Rohingya disembark in North Aceh earlier in June.

There are currently some 383 Rohingya at the Lhokseumawe Vocational Center, after at least three refugees died of COVID-19, according to Amnesty International.

“There is no reason Indonesia should lead this refugee crisis alone. There must be shared responsibility among regional countries in order to organize urgent search and rescue and prevent others from facing the same dangers,” Hamid stressed.

– ‘World’s most persecuted people’

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were thrown into fires, over 114,000 more beaten, and as many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police, said the OIDA report, titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.

Over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and some 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

* Writing by Rhany Chairunissa Rufinaldo from Anadolu Agency’s Indonesian language services in Jakarta

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