‘She Thought She Would Die’: Rohingya Refugees Reach Indonesia After Weeks at Sea

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JAKARTA — More than 200 rescued Rohingya refugees were receiving emergency health assistance in Indonesia, a UN agency said on Tuesday, after they were saved by fishermen when calls on the regional countries to assist them fell on deaf ears for weeks.

The International Organization for Migration has confirmed that at least 174 Rohingya on a rickety wooden boat reached the coastal village of Muara Tiga in Pidie district of northern Aceh province on Monday.

The group of 36 men, 31 women and 107 children arrived about a day after 57 Rohingya refugees landed in the province’s Aceh Besar district.

“The group is in very poor health condition, with many suffering severe dehydration and malnutrition,” the International Organization for Migration said in a written response to Arab News.

“IOM’s medical team is currently conducting basic health assessments.”

Eros Shidqy Putra, a member of Indonesia’s National Refugee Task Force, told Arab News that the refugees would be placed under the care of the local government for the time being.

“After that, we will move them to a province which is already housing refugees,” he said. “Aceh is not a province that shelters refugees.”

At least five boats carrying hundreds of refugees had left the coast of Cox’s Bazar, the largest Rohingya settlement in Bangladesh, in late November, in an attempt to cross the Andaman Sea to another host country.

One boat carrying 154 refugees was rescued by a Vietnamese offshore company and handed over to the Myanmar Navy, while a vessel carrying 104 people was rescued by the Sri Lanka Navy on Dec. 18.

The UN Refugee Agency previously said it had received unconfirmed reports that a boat carrying 180 people had sunk.

International organizations and activists have urged countries in the region for weeks to rescue the refugees stranded at sea, but despite multiple appeals for help, no official assistance was dispatched.

Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, the brother of Hatamonesa, a 27-year-old woman who was with her five-year-old daughter onboard the boat that arrived in Indonesia on Monday, spoke to his sister on Tuesday after more than a month with no communication.

“We feel like we got a new world today,” Khan said. “We could see their faces again. It’s really a moment of joy for all of us.”

During the call, Khan learned that his niece had received treatment for dehydration because she had drunk salt water during the journey. They did not eat for 13 days.

According to Hatamonesa, 20 people had died on the boat and were thrown overboard.

“She thought that she would die in the voyage at sea,” Khan said.

“She hoped that if she could leave to Malaysia, there would be a better future for her daughters and for her.”

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017 following a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military that the UN said amounted to genocide.

For the last five years, refugees have lived in squalid and overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar facing increasing uncertainty. The situation has prompted some to take risky journeys by sea in hopes of finding a better life.

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Photo: Villagers look at a boat used by Rohingya refugees in their weeks-long journey across the Andaman Sea from Bangladesh, in Pidie, Aceh, on Tuesday. — AFP

c. Arab News

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