BIREUEN, INDONESIA (AFP) – Three boats filled with more than 500 Rohingya refugees landed in Indonesia’s westernmost province on Sunday, a United Nations (UN) agency said, in one of the biggest arrivals since Myanmar launched a military crackdown on the minority group in 2017.
The mostly Muslim Rohingya are heavily persecuted in Myanmar, and thousands risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys, often in flimsy boats, to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.
UN refugee agency protection associate Faisal Rahman told AFP one boat had arrived in Aceh Province’s Bireuen district with 256 people aboard, while at least 239 others arrived in Aceh’s Pidie region and a smaller boat carrying 36 arrived in East Aceh.
“They were found in several spots,” Rahman said on Sunday.
Of the 256 aboard the Bireuen boat, 110 were women and 60 were children, he said.
It was the same boat that locals had pushed back out to sea on Thursday, leaving it stranded off the coast for several days, according to Rahman.
“It’s confirmed… because many people were identified by security officials during the landing,” he said.
The latest arrivals mean more than 800 refugees have landed in Aceh Province this week alone, after 196 arrived on Tuesday and 147 on Wednesday, according to local officials.
An AFP journalist saw the Rohingya boat docked on the beach in Bireuen after the refugees had disembarked.
The refugees were being held at a temporary shelter while awaiting a decision from authorities on their fate, and were mostly in good health.
Bireuen regional secretary Ibrahim Ahmad told reporters on Sunday the decision would be made by “other institutions”.
In Pidie, Marfian, a spokesperson for the local fishing community who like many Indonesians goes by one name, confirmed to AFP that a boat of nearly 250 refugees landed overnight.
More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to have attempted the risky journey to other Southeast Asian countries in 2022, according to UNHCR.
Nearly 200 Rohingya died or went missing last year while attempting hazardous sea crossings, the agency has estimated.