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Over 300 Rohingya Muslims arrive in Indonesia’s Aceh

ACEH BESAR, Indonesia (AP) — Two boats carrying more than 300 Rohingya Muslims, including emaciated women and children, arrived at Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh on Sunday morning after being adrift for weeks.

One boat, which had been at sea for about one and a half months and carrying 135 passengers, arrived at a beach in Lamreh village in Aceh Besar Regency. Shahidul Islam, a 34-year-old survivor, said they left their refugee camp in Bangladesh. “The boat was sinking. We had no food or water left,” he said.

The other boat carrying nearly 180 people docked at a beach in Blang Raya village at Pidie Regency. It has been adrift in the Andaman Sea without adequate supplies for about 27 days. Mahmud Husein, 25, a survivor, said he gave the boat owner BDT40,000 to help him leave Bangaldesh.

“We came to Indonesia, but we want to go to other countries if they want to help us,” Husein said.

Another boat, carrying more refugees, embarked from Bangaldesh at the same time, Husein confirmed, but has remained missing. The UN refugee agency warned that people onboard could die if more is not done to rescue them.

About 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, following a brutal counterinsurgency campaign. Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of Rohingya homes, and international courts are considering whether their actions constitute genocide.

Since November, more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees have arrived by boat in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Some were denied landing by the residents in Aceh Utara district and Sabang island, sparking concerns from human rights organisations.

Rijalul Fitri, head of Blang Raya village in Aceh, said Sunday they do not want the refugees in their village. “We stayed up all night so as not to allow them to dock, but at 2.30am, they arrived,” he said.

Fitri was adamant about the refugees’ relocation, saying, “they can’t stay here.”

President Joko Widodo on Friday said in a statement that Indonesia’s government suspected a surge in human trafficking because of the increasing number of Rohingya Muslims who entered the country over the past few weeks, especially in Aceh.

Police in the city of Lohkseumawe — where there is a camp for Rohingya Muslim refugees — arrested three Aceh residents for human trafficking. They were charged with taking IDR1.8 million, to smuggle 30 refugees from the camp to the city of Medan in North Sumatra province, said Henki Ismanto, the Lhokseumawe police chief.

Most of the refugees leaving by sea attempt to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia, in search of work. Indonesia, where Muslims comprise nearly 90 per cent of the country’s 277 million people, has been detaining them.

An Indonesian soldier inspects the identification of ethnic Rohingya men after they land on a beach in Pidie, Aceh province, Indonesia on Sunday. PHOTO: AP
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