At least 69 Rohingya refugees rescued after boat capsizes off Indonesia

At least 69 Rohingya refugees have been rescued after a wooden boat with an estimated 150 people on board capsized off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS Aceh) said on Thursday that 42 men, 18 women and nine children were brought to port.

But dozens more are feared to have drowned. The boat is thought to have run into trouble some 19km (12 miles) from the beach of Kuala Bubon on the west coast of Aceh after it hit rough seas on Wednesday morning.

Earlier, six people – four women and two men – were rescued from the boat by Acehnese fishermen and taken to a shelter, where they were able to speak to Faisal Rahman, a representative from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Rahman said the survivors’ testimony suggested many had drowned.

“We can’t confirm the exact number of casualties, but according to information from the six who were rescued, there are many dead,” he told Al Jazeera. “They assume about 50 people died when the boat capsized.”

It is thought that most of those presumed to have died were women and children who were unable to swim, and carried out to sea by the currents.

Amateur footage shot by local fishermen at the scene, which has been widely shared on Indonesian social media, showed survivors standing on the boat’s upturned hull.

They all appeared to be male.

Emaciated and dressed in shorts, they waved at the fishermen and begged to be rescued.

Amiruddin, a fishing community leader in the Aceh Barat district where Kuala Bubon is located, said a search and rescue boat from Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency had been dispatched on Wednesday.

It is unclear why the boat sank, although wooden boats carrying refugees from the camps in Bangladesh are often in poor condition and overcrowded, with only basic facilities on board.

In August 2023, 17 Rohingya refugees died when their boat sank in the Bay of Bengal.

UNHCR’s Rahman said the rescue agency had been unable to find the exact location of the boat on Wednesday night.

‘Humanity cannot wait’

Azharul Husna, the coordinator of KontraS Aceh, questioned why a rescue boat needed to be sent from Banda Aceh, some 223km (138 miles) away from Kuala Bubon, when the rescue agency had other boats in the vicinity.

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