More than 750 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees and migrants have been rescued from a sinking boat off the coast of Indonesia, Sky News reports. The vessel was found off Aceh province with sixty-one children either on board or swimming around it. Authorities said the people had been at sea for two months. The boat people were brought ashore by six fishing vessels.
“They were killing each other, throwing people overboard,” a local police chief said. “Because (the boat) was overcapacity, some people had to go and probably they were defending themselves.” A search and rescue official in the port of Langsa, said the migrants started jumping off the listing boat when they saw the local fishermen approaching. “Their condition is generally bad, some of them have died at sea,” he said, without giving further details. “They were starving at sea, they fought among themselves.”
Some had sustained injuries to their heads, arms and legs and had been taken to hospital, he added. Earlier on Friday, another boat carrying about 300 Rohingya left Thailand’s waters, a Thai official said, after authorities repaired its engine and gave the occupants some food. The boat’s passengers included many children and women who cried as they begged for food and water, after arriving near the southern Thai island of Koh Lipe on Thursday.
They told of a grim two-month odyssey in which 10 passengers had died of starvation or illness and were tossed overboard. “We haven’t had anything to eat for a week, there is nowhere to sleep … my children are sick,” said Sajida, 27, a Rohingya who was travelling with her four young children. The mainly-Muslim Rohingya people, many of whom go back generations in Burma’s western state of Rakhine, are not recognised by the mainly-Buddhist Burmese authorities who insist they are migrants from Bangladesh and refuse to give them citizenship.
Activists estimate that up to 8,000 migrants are at sea in Southeast Asia, many of whom are bound for Malaysia. They had been stopping when they reached Thailand but the Thais say they will no longer accept the boats and are threatening to send those who reach the shore back to sea. The country decided to take its extreme stance after graves were found in the Thai jungle, believed to be the final resting place of dozens of would-be migrants dumped there by human traffickers.
The US and UN are furious at the lack of compassion and have called on the region to find a coordinated solution. A cross-region conference is due to be held at the end of the month in Thailand but that is looking uncertain, as Burma is now indicating it may not attend.