Indonesia agrees to take in boat carrying 120 displaced Rohingya

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Dec. 29 (UPI) — Authorities in Indonesia on Wednesday allowed a boat carrying an estimated 120 displaced Rohingya to disembark on its shores.

Reza Maulana, a liaison officer for the Geutanyoe Foundation humanitarian group, told Arab News the boat was so full that people on board could not sit down, adding “we would instead be collecting bodies from the sea” if the boat had not been allowed to disembark.

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“The Indonesian government on Dec. 29, decided, in the name of humanity, to accommodate the Rohingya refugees who were stranded on a boat in the waters off of Aceh,” Armed Wijaya, head of the refugee task force at the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affiars. “The decision was made after considering the emergency situation that the refugees on the boat were experiencing.”

Wijaya said the exact number of Rohingya on board was unknown, but most were women and children, adding they will receive the necessary assistance and undergo screening for COVID-19.

The ship was first spotted by a local fisherman about 60 miles off the coast of Bireuen Regency on Sunday. Most of the passengers initially sought refuge in Bangladesh, Arab News reported.

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The Rohingya people are a stateless ethnic group from the Rakhine state in Myanmar. The Rohingya were denied citizenship in Myanmar and some 700,000 have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in recent years amid persecution.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said the boat was leaking and at risk of capsizing off the coast of Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh, and called on the nation to take the vessel in.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Jakarta, Ann Maymann, told Al Jazeera that Indonesia’s decision to take in the migrants was a triumph of human rights and international law.

“We are extremely grateful to the Indonesian government … it is a decision that we have not seen other governments take with regard to other boats,” she said. “It is an example for other countries to follow, both in the Asia Pacific region and also in other parts of the world where boats are being pushed back.”