Geutanyeo Faoundation

Nearly 300 Rohingya Disembarked in Aceh Shows Urgent Need for Search and Rescue

Responding to the disembarkation of 297 Rohingya refugees in Lhokseumawe, in Aceh province on the westernmost tip of Indonesia, Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said:

“Rohingya refugees are still willing to risk everything in search of safety. Their testimonies, once again, show how perilous these boat journeys can be. Survivors have said that dozens died from among the group rescued today.

“It is appalling that the Indonesian authorities are waiting for local fishermen to take the initiative in carrying out these rescues. The government, not private individuals, should have saved these lives. The central government of Indonesia must now ensure those disembarked get the protection they are entitled to, including food, shelter, and essential health services – including protection from COVID-19. They should assist the local government in handling the refugees.

“Moreover, regional cooperation for search and rescue missions remains as critical as ever. We call on the Indonesian authorities to immediately initiate a regional dialogue. Through their inaction, regional leaders have turned our waters into a graveyard.”

Background

Around midnight on 7 September 2020, 297 Rohingya refugees were located off Ujong Blang Beach in Lhokseumawe, Aceh. They were rescued by local fishermen who had consulted with the authorities. In previous cases the authorities had initially resisted any disembarkation and only relented after community protests.

A local civil society representative who spoke to Amnesty reported that the 102 men, 181 women, and 14 children had been at sea for seven months. Around 30 people reportedly died during the journey and were thrown into the sea. 

Two of the arrivals were said to be sick and have been taken to a local hospital. The same source also reported that the other refugees have been taken to a local Vocational Training Center, an accommodation where a previous cohort of Rohingya refugees have been residing for the past few months after disembarking in June.

The Indonesian government, through the Foreign Affairs Ministry, has pledged to provide shelters in Lhokseumawe for hundreds of Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, for the previous arrivals.

The government also said that it was working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration to ensure the wellbeing of the refugees.