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Indonesia says it will allow stranded Rohingya boat to seek refuge

International groups had called on the Southeast Asian country to let the vessel dock after local officials said they would only provide the refugees aid.
A wooden boat transporting Rohingya refugees on Monday after it was intercepted in the waters off Biruen, Indonesia. The Indonesian government initially denied the passengers refuge. AFP - Getty Images

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia will allow a boat packed with Rohingya refugees that had become stranded off its coast to dock in the Southeast Asian country, its security ministry said on Wednesday, after calls from aid organizations to allow the vessel to seek refuge.

Local officials in Aceh, a province on the western island of Sumatra, had said a day earlier 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.

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.

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“Today, the Indonesian government decided, in the name of humanity, to give refuge to Rohingya refugees currently afloat on a boat near Bireun district, Aceh,” Armed Wijaya, an official at Indonesia’s chief security ministry, said in a statement on Wednesday.

“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.

Image: A boat carrying Rohingya refugees, including women and children, is seen stranded in waters off the coast of Bireuen
The passengers on the boat were mostly women and children, an Indonesian official said.Aditya Setiawan / Reuters

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 a 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 U.N. Convention on Refugees and is generally seen as a transit country for those seeking asylum to a third country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Amnesty International had called on the Indonesian government to allow the boat to seek refuge.