Migrants in boat stranded off Indonesia allowed to come ashore, ending tense stand-off

Sri Lankan migrants resting inside a tent at Lhok Nga beach in Aceh, Indonesia, on Saturday, June 18, 2016.
Sri Lankan migrants resting inside a tent at Lhok Nga beach in Aceh, Indonesia, on Saturday, June 18, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

LHOKNGA, INDONESIA (AFP) - Dozens of Sri Lankan migrants stranded on a boat off Indonesia were allowed to come ashore on Saturday (June 18), easing a tense stand-off with the local authorities that drew international condemnation.

The 44 migrants, who include many women and children, had been stuck on a boat off Aceh province for a week as authorities in the western province refused to allow them to disembark.

But officials relented on Saturday and allowed the migrants - who were adrift after their Indian-flagged vessel broke down en route to Australia - to take refuge in tents set up along the beach.

 

Police had begun taking photographs of those brought ashore in a bid to establish identities, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

The authorities had previously said the boat would be towed out to international waters to continue on its journey after repairs are completed and the weather improved.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla had ordered Aceh officials to allow the migrants to disembark the vessel, which washed up by a beach in the town of Lhoknga.

"We're happy to see that is finally being implemented," said Ms Lilianne Fan, international director of Aceh non-governmental organisation the Geutanyoe Foundation, whose team on the ground witnessed the disembarkation.

"At this point the most urgent thing from our point of view is that immediate access is given to the UNHCR," she added, referring to the United Nations refugee agency.

The week-long impasse boiled over Thursday when the police fired a warning shot to disperse a crowd that had swarmed around the vessel.

Amnesty International accused local authorities of employing "crude intimidation tactics" against the migrants, and called for UN refugee teams in Aceh to be granted immediate access to the group.

"The immigration office and security forces in Aceh are flouting the authority of their own Vice-President and not letting the UNHCR do its job," Josef Benedict of Amnesty International said in a statement.

Hundreds of Myanmar Rohingya came ashore in Aceh last year during a regional boat people crisis and were warmly welcomed by residents of the staunchly Islamic province, who felt sympathy for their plight as a persecuted Muslim minority.