An Indonesian fishing boat rescued five Rohingya off western Aceh province after five others starved to death and their bodies were tossed overboard when they were stranded at sea for almost three weeks, officials said Friday.
The survivors, identified as two men, a woman, a teenage girl and an 8-year-old boy, were taken to Zubir Mahmud Hospital after the fishing boat crew brought them to shore, according to Herman, the secretary of the Search and Rescue Team of East Aceh regency.
“Their conditions when they arrived on the land was weak, even though they had been fed by the fishermen after they were found,” Herman, who uses one name, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.
H.B. Aris Santo, commander of the Navy Force at Aceh’s Kuala Idi, said the five were spotted Monday night by the fishermen about 176 miles from the Aceh shoreline.
Despite the language barrier, the Rohingya told their rescuers they had been stranded for 20 days after leaving their village in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
“They said initially there were 10 in the boat, but five of them had died from lack of food and had been thrown into the sea,” Aris said.
Officials said the Rohingya were lucky to survive.
“If we look at the boat they used, it was in very poor condition and was unfit to sail through the ocean because it was very small and no engine,” said Razali Ali, a coordinator of Aceh traditional fishermen community.
Afrizal, an immigration official in Aceh, said immigration officers took the Rohingya Muslims from the hospital Friday afternoon.
“We have not questioned them yet. We have coordinated with UNHCR and IOM,” he told BenarNews, referring to the United Nations refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration.
“Maybe tomorrow we’ll start checking their identity documents after a translator from IOM comes.”
Afrizal said the Rohingya described their journey to an IOM representative during a phone call.
“They left from Myanmar to sail to Malaysia,” he said.
On Tuesday, Malaysian officials intercepted a boat carrying 56 people believed to be Rohingya off the island of Langkawi.
Malaysian officials said the boat with 36 adults and about 20 children sailed from Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where about 700,000 Rohingya refugees have sheltered since August 2017 after fleeing Myanmar’s Rakhine state to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by security forces.
In 2015, about 1,000 stranded Rohingya were rescued by Acehnese fishermen. Most chose to flee to Malaysia to find jobs while the rest have been granted political asylum in other countries, according to the Indonesian government.
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.