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Jakarta Post

Aceh on alert for Rohingya refugee boats spotted in Andaman Sea

  • Farid Fahlevi

    The Jakarta Post

Banda Aceh   /   Sun, May 17, 2020   /   07:53 pm
Aceh on alert for Rohingya refugee boats spotted in Andaman Sea Ethnic Rohingya migrants, believed to have come from Myanmar and Bangladesh (left), receive aid from a Thai fishing boat in the Andaman Sea near southern Thailand on May 14, 2015. (EPA via The Straits Times/-)

Security forces and fishermen in Aceh are on alert for two speedboats carrying Rohingya refugees spotted in the Andaman Sea and apparently heading towards Malaysia. 

The head of the Aceh Police’s water and air policing unit (Ditpolairud), Sr. Comr. Jemmy Rosdiantoro, said he had been alerted of the boats by the Office of the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister and had instructed his personnel to be on guard for the possibility that the boats would enter Acehnese waters.

“From the air patrols that we have conducted, we have not yet found the boats carrying Rohingya immigrants,” he said on Friday as quoted by kompas.com. “We will continue air patrols for the next few days.”

Fishermen in the area have also been told to be on alert and to coordinate with security forces if they spot boats carrying refugees.

“There is still no information regarding their latest location,” Miftah Cut, the secretary-general of traditional fishing community Panglima Laot, told The Jakarta Post on Saturday. 

He said that Panglima Laot would provide necessities for the refugees if they encountered Rohingya boats in Indonesian waters.

Acehnese fisherman had previously rescued stranded Rohingya refugees in 2015. 

“We actually never intended to bring them ashore. But they started swimming in the sea, so we rescued them,” Miftah said.

In 2018, five Rohingya stranded at sea for almost three weeks were rescued by Indonesian fishermen but several others died during the ordeal.

Rima Shah Putra, the director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, a local refugee assistance organization, urged all stakeholders to safeguard the rights of refugees, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is still unclear whether the refugees will land in Aceh or Malaysia. However, the government should not use fear about the COVID-19 pandemic to dismiss the asylum seekers,” Rima said.

Amnesty International Indonesia and the Risalah Jakarta Forum have also called on the Indonesian government to rescue the refugees.

“We urge the government of Indonesia not to refuse or push back boats carrying hundreds of people seeking safety,” said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid said in a statement on Friday.

“It is necessary for authorities in the country to allow all boats carrying refugees to safely disembark to avert a humanitarian crisis. We appreciate Indonesia’s past leadership where the authorities allowed Rohingya people to land in May 2015. This sort of effort should be continued,” he added.

When asked whether Indonesia would accept the refugees if they asked to disembark on Indonesian shores, Foreign Minstry spokesperson Teuku Faizasyah said it was still a hypothetical situation.

“Actually, Indonesian policy is to prevent [refugees] from [making the journey] as boat people, right from the beginning. The voyage will jeopardize the safety of anyone on the boats, even more so if there is an element of trafficking in persons,” Faizasyah said. (trn)