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Indonesian navy tows Rohingya boat to port

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At least 100 mostly women and children aboard a sticken wooden vessel off Aceh province were denied refuge in Indonesia. STR/AFP

Indonesian navy tows Rohingya boat to port

Indonesia's navy rescued more than 100 Rohingya migrants travelling in a wooden boat, bringing them to safety early in the morning of December 31 following pressure from locals.

The naval ship arrived in Lhokseumawe on the north coast of Aceh province shortly after midnight, according to AFP journalists at the scene.

Rough seas and pouring rain hampered the operation to bring the mostly women and children to shore, the navy said.

The rescue operation followed local protests and pressure from rights groups, including the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), after the Indonesian government initially refused entry.

Jakarta on the evening of December 29 relented and agreed to bring the boat to shore on humanitarian grounds.

Local Acehnese fishermen first discovered the vessel on December 25 as it drifted 90-130km off the coast with a broken engine.

Video they sent from the scene showed the vessel dangerously overcrowded and sitting low in the water after it took on water in heavy seas after the engine failure.

The video and images circulated on social media, stoking support for the migrants, Muslim-minority Rohingya who are fleeing persecution in their native Myanmar, according to local residents.

Local Acehnese told AFP they were motivated by memories of foreign assistance during more than 30 years of conflict and the devastating tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands in 2004.

“We sincerely want to help, especially because we know how it felt getting help from other countries during the tsunami,” said Ridwan, 56, a local fisherman who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name.

“Everybody was eager to help since the beginning,” he said.

The migrants appeared exhausted and crammed onto the deck after being adrift for almost a month and short of food and water, AFP journalists at the port observed.

A local fisherman earlier told AFP that the migrants told him one 17-year-old boy had died.

After they disembarked, the migrants were sprayed with disinfectant and transferred to buses before being driven away.

Officials said they would be moved to a nearby training facility where they would be tested for Covid-19, have medical checks and then quarantine for 10 days.

Migrant Rohingya frequently pass by Aceh province en route to Malaysia, where they seek work and a better life.


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