More than 100 days after they sailed out of Bangladesh’s coastal region of Cox’s Bazar , 81 Muslim Rohingya refugees have reached Aceh in Indonesia.
They were stranded in India’s Andaman islands after their boat developed serious technical snags at sea on Feb 18, a week after it sailed out of Bangladesh.
Indian coast guards provided the refugees with food, drinking water and medical attention and arranged for repairs on the boat but did not allow it ashore .
India tried negotiating with Bangladesh to take back these refugees, but since Bangladesh refused to take them back, the authorities in Andamans quietly allowed repairs and took care of the Rohingyas.
On May 30, the boat was finally ready and it sailed out that afternoon.
On Friday , it reached Aceh . Families of the refugees were inforned by the shipowner about their safe arrival on Indonesian territory.
” This was the nearest Southeast Asian territory the boat could reach , because the crew were not sure how far they could go,” said a source in Andamans who handled the rescue and relief for the sea-stranded Rohingyas.
The satphone of the Rohingya boat was snatched by the Indian coastguards to avoid disclosure of the boat’s whereabouts.
Eight of the ninety Rohingyas who set sail ( 65 women, 20 men and 5 minors) had already died of diarohhea and dehydration after the boat’s engine developed trouble on Feb 18, a week into the journey towards South-east Asia.
81 Rohingyas, mostly women , were on the boat with three Bangladesh crew members when the rights activists lost contact with the boat. The survivors confirmed eight deaths on the boat before they lost contact.
Rights activists thanked the Indian coastguards for providing immediate relief.
” It is good to know that no one on the boat died after it was rescued by the Indian coastguards,” said one Thailand-based rights activist.
” Delhi perhaps tried to negotiate the boat’s return to Bangladesh with the Rohingyas , but when Dhaka refused, they took care of the refugees and allowed them to proceed to Southeast Asia,” the activist said but on condition of anonymity on grounds he was not authorised to brief media.
The UN had in February also requested India to take care of the refugees for humanitarian reasons.
Indian authorities confirmed 47 Rohingyas on the boat had UNHCR-issued refugee cards given out in Bangladesh.
Rights activists, who were worried over possibilities of India handing over the Rohingyas to Myanmar said on Friday they were relieved the boat had landed in Aceh.
Boats carrying Rohingya refugees have regularly drifted towards India’s Andaman islands. India’s BJP government has not been keen to take them in — hence the temporary relief followed by the onward journey to Southeast Asia.
Courtesy – IANS