By Stanley Widianto
JAKARTA – A boat carrying scores of Rohingya refugees including women and children broke down and was stranded in waters off the coast of Aceh province on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, local authorities and humanitarian groups said on Monday.
Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have for years sailed to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia between November and April when the seas are calm.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Monday the boat carrying the Rohingya was spotted on Sunday in waters off Bireuen, Aceh and it was working with local authorities to rescue the group.
There were about 70 refugees in the boat, Amnesty International’s Indonesia branch said, citing local authorities. Badruddin Jusuf, a local fishing community leader, estimated the number aboard at 120 and said they had been given food.
Amnesty said fishermen had appealed to local authorities to rescue the stranded Rohingya.
“There needs to be joint responsibility between regional countries to conduct search and rescue so that (refugees) can avoid dangers at sea…,” said Amnesty Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar in August 2017 after a military crackdown that refugees said included mass killings and rape. Rights groups documented killings of civilians and burning of villages.
Myanmar authorities say they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
Hundreds of Rohingya refugees have reached Aceh at intervals over the past few years, all of whom had been at sea for months.