A boat carrying 81 Rohingya refugees has washed ashore at an uninhabited island in Indonesia after drifting for more than 100 days at sea, leading to a tense standoff with local authorities as to whether they will be allowed to enter the country or be driven back to sea.
The small wooden boat was discovered early morning on Friday in waters off Idaman Island off the coast of Aceh province, about two hours away from the town of Lhokseumawe, which is usually only used as a rest spot for fishermen in the area.“Our staff in the field have met with the refugees who said that they have been travelling for three months,” said Rima Putra Shah, the Director of Geutanyoë Foundation, an NGO which provides education and psychosocial support to refugees in Indonesia and Malaysia.
It is thought that the refugees, many of them women and children, had originally travelled from camps in Bangladesh to waters off the coast of India, where their boat broke down and was fixed by the Indian coastguard which gave them supplies of food and water, but did not allow them to land.
The Indian coastguard is also thought to have found that eight of the 90 refugees who originally set sail had died on the boat.
The refugees were refused re-entry into Bangladesh, forcing the passengers to try to reach Malaysia before coming ashore at Idaman Island.
“Of course they are in poor condition and the island itself has no facilities and is full of mosquitoes,” said Shah.
“They are near the mainland and waiting for the decision as to whether they will be allowed to relocate to Aceh or not.”
Back out to sea?
A source in Aceh, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the situation, told Al Jazeera that a standoff had occurred on Friday afternoon as local police had urged the refugees to return to their boat and leave Indonesia’s waters, which the refugees had refused to do.
“They will decide tomorrow [Saturday] whether to push them back out to sea or not,” the source added.