Local officials in Aceh, a province on
the western island of Sumatra said on Tuesday that they would provide the
roughly 120 passengers on board with food, medicine and water, but would not
allow them to seek refuge in Indonesia, despite international pleas to do so.
“Today, the Indonesian government
decided, in the name of humanity, to give refuge to Rohingya refugees currently
afloat on a boat near Biereun district, Aceh,” Armed Wijaya, an official
at Indonesia’s chief security ministry, said in a statement.
“The decision was made after
considering the emergency conditions the refugees are experiencing onboard the
boat,” he said. Its passengers were mostly women and children, he added.
The stranded boat had been at risk of
sinking within days, two fishermen told Reuters on Wednesday.
“There were two places where the
boat was leaking. There was lot of water,” said Aditya Setiawan, one of
the fishermen. In a video seen by Reuters, dozens of people appeared to be
packed above and below the deck of the long, wooden skiff.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951
UN Convention on Refugees and is predominately seen as a transit country for
those seeking asylum to a third country.
The United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) and Amnesty International had called on the Indonesian
government to allow the boat to seek refuge.
Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar
have for years sailed to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia
between November and April when the seas are calm.
Many have been turned away.