BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian fishermen discovered 94 hungry, weak Rohingya Muslims on a wooden boat adrift off Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh, an official said Wednesday.
The people were found by three fishermen late Monday on the rickety boat about 6 kilometers (4 miles) off the coast, local police chief Muhammad Jamil said.
He said the group of Rohingya cried out for help and jumped onto the fishermen’s boat, but its engine also stopped working on the way to shore. They remained on the boat Wednesday awaiting a decision by the local government whether to accept them.
“We are still waiting for further instructions on what we should do with them,” Jamil said. He said authorities provided them with food and water and villagers donated clothes.
The 49 women, 15 men and 30 children were weak from hunger and dehydration after a two-week voyage, Jamil said.
He said it wasn’t clear where the group was traveling from or where it was headed because none could speak English or Malay.
In April, Malaysia denied entry to a boat carrying about 200 Rohingya due to coronavirus fears.
Rights activists are fearful that large numbers of Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority from mainly Buddhist Myanmar, may be trapped on boats at sea. Reports say they are fleeing ongoing persecution in Myanmar and hardship in refugee camps in Bangladesh where many have fled.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since August 2017, when the military launched a clearance operation in response to attacks by a rebel group. Security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of homes.
Authorities in Myanmar say the Rohingya migrated illegally from Bangladesh, even though many families have lived in Myanmar for decades. Nearly all have been denied citizenship since 1982, effectively rendering them stateless. They are also denied freedom of movement and other rights including education.