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Indonesia rescuers spot Rohingya survivors after boat capsize

Their wooden boat and another vessel trying to help them both capsized off Kuala Bubon beach in West Aceh
Rohingya refugees rest at a temporary shelter in the basement of a government building in Banda Aceh on Feb. 29.

Rohingya refugees rest at a temporary shelter in the basement of a government building in Banda Aceh on Feb. 29. (Photo: AFP)

Published: March 21, 2024 04:48 AM GMT
Updated: March 21, 2024 04:56 AM GMT

Indonesian rescuers rushed to save a group of Rohingya refugees on March 21 after they spotted them in the water, holding onto a boat that had capsized a day earlier.

The mostly Muslim Rohingya are heavily persecuted in Myanmar, and thousands risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys, often on flimsy boats, to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.

The group's wooden boat and another vessel trying to help them both capsized on March 20. The survivors estimated around 150 Rohingya refugees were on board with dozens swept away.

An AFP journalist aboard a rescue boat sent out on March 21 morning said the team had spotted a group of Rohingya holding onto the hull of an overturned boat, and that rescuers were making evacuation preparations.

The rescue boat was not close enough yet to the capsized vessel for the journalist to be able to discern how many people were in the sea.

On March 20, six Rohingya were rescued by fishermen.

According to survivors, around 150 people were aboard the capsized boat, forcing them to get on a fisherman's boat, which then also capsized, West Aceh fishing community secretary-general Pawang Amiruddin told AFP.

"As it was dark the process was difficult and they couldn't find them. This morning they will continue to search and rescue them," said Faisal Rahman, United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) protection associate.

One of the survivors said dozens of refugees had been swept away by currents and were missing or feared dead.

"I have communicated with one of the six rescued by the locals. He said the boat took 151 people. Once the boat capsized approximately around 50 people may be missing and passed away," Rahman said.

"We are still coordinating with respective government agencies to do our best to save as many lives as possible."

Local police and the regional government did not respond to requests for comment.

From mid-November to late January, 1,752 refugees, mostly women and children, landed in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra, according to UNHCR.

The agency said it was the biggest influx into the Muslim-majority country since 2015.

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