JAKARTA (AFP) - Rescuers Sunday brought ashore 469 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh after their wooden boat arrived off Aceh in northwest Indonesia, an official said.
“We received a report from fishermen this morning that there were boat people stranded in the waters off north Aceh,” Aceh provincial search and rescue chief Budiawan told AFP. “We despatched teams there and evacuated 469 migrants who are Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshis. There are women and children among them. So far, all of them are safe,” he added.
He said the group would be taken to a detention centre in north Aceh district, where police and immigration officials would carry out “further processing” which would include investigating their motives.
Darsa, a disaster management agency official who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP the group had arrived near a beach in north Aceh district early Sunday and were told to swim to shore.
“One of the migrants who could speak Malay told me that their agent had told them they were in Malaysia, and to swim to shore,” he said.
“Some of them did. But later they found out from fishermen that they were in Indonesia,” he added.
According to the migrant, five boats had departed from Myanmar last week to escape the conflict in their country, Darsa said.
“He said the Muslims were beaten and had hot water poured on them and they just wanted to get out of Myanmar as soon as possible, to anywhere where they could seek refuge,” he said.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and they have been targeted in outbreaks of sectarian violence there in recent years, prompting many to flee.
Darsa said there were 83 women and 41 children on board. One of the women was pregnant and some of the children were aged under 10.
“There was little food and water on the boat. Some of them were not doing too well and needed medical attention,” he said.
Thousands of Muslim Rohingya have braved the dangerous sea crossing from Myanmar to southern Thailand and beyond in recent years.
Many hope to go on to mainly Muslim Malaysia but the migrants have often fallen prey to people-traffickers in Thailand.
The UN considers the Rohingya to be one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.