IDI RAYEUK (ACEH) • A boat carrying 20 men believed to be Rohingya migrants landed in Indonesia yesterday, the authorities said, the latest group of the Myanmar minority to reach the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.
The men arrived in Aceh province on Sumatra island in a rickety wooden boat, according to a local official who said he thought the men were the persecuted Muslim Rohingya.
"We can't communicate with them because they don't speak Bahasa Indonesia, Acehnese or English. So we don't know much about them," said the head of Idi Rayeuk district, Mr Iswanti who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.
It is not known where the group, aged around 20 to 40, set off from. However, in recent weeks, the authorities in both Myanmar and Bangladesh, where around a million of the Muslim refugees are living in camps, have stopped boats of fleeing Rohingya migrants headed mainly for Malaysia.
It has been rare for Rohingya migrants to attempt the sea routes south since the Thai authorities clamped down on regional trafficking networks in 2015, sparking a crisis across South-east Asia as large numbers were abandoned at sea.
That year, hundreds of Rohingya came ashore in Aceh, where they were welcomed in the staunchly conservative Islamic province.
But there have been concerns that the desperate community might start taking to the high seas again after mainly Buddhist Myanmar launched a new military crackdown last year that forced about 700,000 members of the Muslim minority to flee to Bangladesh.
In April, about 80 Rohingya in a wooden boat landed in Aceh, just weeks after dozens had arrived in neighbouring Malaysia.
Indonesia tends to accept asylum seekers but usually bars them from working, and the migrants often spend years in immigration centres.