Aceh fishermen nominated for UN award for rescuing migrants

Fisherman pull a fishing net from the sea in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.
Fisherman pull a fishing net from the sea in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - Fishermen in Indonesia's Aceh province have been nominated for a United Nations award for rescuing hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh stranded in Indonesian waters.

The Aceh-based humanitarian group Geutanyoe Foundation had proposed the fishermen as candidates for the 2016 Nansen Refugee Award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), the groups international director Lilianne Fan said on Wednesday (Feb 10).

"If they hadn't been rescued by the Aceh fishermen, the lives of the children and the Rohingnya people and Bangladeshis may not have been saved," Fan was quoted as saying by news agency Antara.

The Rohingya, a stateless ethnic minority from Myanmar, were allowed to enter Aceh in May last year during the regional migrant crisis.

A Thai crackdown on trafficking networks had led to boatloads of starving migrants being abandoned out at sea. Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia responded by turning away the boats until the latter two countries reached an agreement to give the migrants refuge for one year.

The UNCHR awards the annual Nansen Refugee Award to an individual, group of people or an organisation to honour extraordinary service to refugees and outstanding work on behalf of the forcibly displaced.

The UN body focuses on giving assistance to refugees as well as providing education for the children of the displaced in various countries.

Fan said the Aceh fishermen exemplified concrete humanitarian action in saving the lives of the refugees without exhibiting racial or ethnic bias.

The number of Rohingya refugees currently living in Aceh province has reportedly fallen to be 350 from the initial 1,010 people.

The refugees currently live in shelters located in Kuala Langsa harbour, in the town of Langsa, and also camps in Bayeun village in East Aceh and Blang Ado village in North Aceh.

The foundation has been working with the fishermen and focuses on helping the refugees improve their living conditions and create social and livelihood programmes in their camps in Aceh.