JAKARTA, Indonesia 

All Rohingya refugees stranded off Lancok Coast, North Aceh, tested negative for COVID-19, a local government official confirmed on Friday.

Andre Prayuda, a spokesman for North Aceh Regency, said the rapid tests were conducted on 99 refugees, including 48 women, 17 men and 34 children, on Thursday night.

“Fortunately, the results are presumed to be negative. Some of them were sick but due to fatigue,” Prayuda told Anadolu Agency.

All refugees have been taken to a temporary shelter in Punteut, Lhokseumawe, north of Sumatra Island, and received food, drinking water, clothes, and face masks.

The local government will continue to provide security and supervise refugees to ensure that they remain free from coronavirus.

The refugees had been adrift at sea for almost three months. Three local fishermen on Wednesday rescued them from their sinking boat using their fishing boat.

After the boat filled with refugees remained adrift in the waters, awaiting to land at the beach, local residents helped them to shore and carried the children onto land.

Prayuda stressed that the central government must take concrete steps immediately.

SUAKA, the Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection, urged the government to establish a regulation on the handling of foreign refugees, especially amid pandemic.

“These regulations are necessary to avoid confusion on the handling of refugees in such critical conditions. We can not let the coronavirus pandemic pits all of our humanity,” Rizka Argadianti Rachmah, the SUAKA chairman, said in a written statement.

She also asked the government to prevent the forced repatriation and the abandonment of Rohingya refugees.

Rima Shah Putra, the director of Geutanyoe Foundation, an Aceh-based humanitarian NGO, said the disembarkation of Rohingya refugees by local residents is a spirit of solidarity and humanity.

“Our government must be ready to face migration amid the pandemic. If the technical rules related to the handling of foreign refugees exist, the authorities will be able to respond and handle the issue properly,” Putra added.

* Writing by Maria Elisa Hospita from Anadolu Agency’s Indonesian-language service in Jakarta

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