Rohingya refugees rescued from overturned boat in Indian Ocean

Numerous Rohingya refugees were rescued from the Indian Ocean near Indonesia’s coast after spending the night perched on their overturned boat. Seventy-five individuals were retrieved from the distressed vessel, which was sighted by an Indonesian search and rescue ship on Thursday. Survivors recounted the boat capsizing on Wednesday.

Men, women, and children, exhausted and drenched from the overnight rain, cried as the rescue operation commenced, ushering them onto a rubber dinghy and then onto the rescue boat. Conflicting reports emerged regarding casualties, with survivors mentioning many missing individuals who were onboard when the boat departed from Bangladesh. However, authorities insisted that everyone had been saved.

Samira, a 17-year-old refugee from the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh en route to Malaysia, stated that there were initially 146 people onboard, raising concerns about 71 individuals potentially lost at sea. She recounted the boat’s deteriorating condition over three days, leading to its capsizing on Wednesday. Samira expressed sadness, highlighting hunger and weakness among the survivors. When fishing vessels arrived on Wednesday, desperate refugees overloaded one of them, causing it to capsize as well. The fate of its crew remained unclear.

Upon receiving information from the fishermen, Indonesian authorities dispatched a search and rescue team from Banda Aceh city on Wednesday evening. They reached the accident site early the next morning but initially couldn’t locate the capsized boat. Eventually, they found the refugees atop the hull at midday, rescuing 42 men, 18 women, and nine children. Some were taken to temporary shelters in Aceh Besar district, while others received medical attention at a local hospital.

According to Amiruddin, a tribal fishing community leader, survivors revealed that the boat, sailing eastward, began leaking, and strong currents pushed it westward towards Aceh. The Rohingya, fleeing a brutal crackdown in Myanmar, had sought refuge in Bangladesh, but overcrowded camps and desperate conditions prompted many to attempt fleeing to neighboring countries like Indonesia, where they face challenges, including hostility from fellow Muslims.

Indonesia, along with Thailand and Malaysia, is not a party to the 1951 UN refugee convention, meaning they’re not legally obligated to accept refugees. Nevertheless, they’ve provided temporary shelter to those in distress.

Last year, nearly 4,500 Rohingya, predominantly women and children, fled Myanmar and Bangladesh’s refugee camps by boat, with a significant number perishing or going missing during the perilous journey. Safe return to Myanmar remains implausible due to the military coup in 2021, leaving Rohingya without substantial resettlement opportunities from any country.

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