Aboutcrammed onto a wooden boat have been turned away from western Indonesia and sent back to sea, residents said Friday.
The group from thearrived off the coast of Aceh province on Thursday but locals told them not to land. Some refugees swam ashore and collapsed on the beach before being pushed back onto their overcrowded boat.
After being turned away, the decrepit boat traveled dozens of miles farther east to North Aceh. But locals again sent them back to sea late Thursday.
By Friday, the vessel, which some on board saidabout three weeks ago, was no longer visible from where it had landed in North Aceh, residents said.
Thousands from the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority risk their lives each year on long and treacherous sea journeys, often in flimsy boats, to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.
“We’re fed up with their presence because when they arrived on land, sometimes many of them ran away. There are some kinds of agents that picked them up. It’s human trafficking,” Saiful Afwadi, a community leader in North Aceh, told AFP on Friday.
Chris Lewa, director of the Rohingya rights organization the Arakan Project, said the villagers’ rejection seemed to be related to a lack of local government resourcesand a feeling that smugglers were using Indonesia as a transit point to Malaysia.
“It is sad and disappointing that the villagers’ anger is against the Rohingya boat people, who are themselves victims of those smugglers and traffickers,” Lewa told AFP on Friday.
She said she was trying to find out where the boat went after being turned away but “no one seems to know.”
The United Nations refugee agency said in a statement Friday that the boat was “off the coast of Aceh,” and gave a lower passenger count of around 200 people. It called on Indonesia to facilitate the landing and provide life-saving assistance to the refugees.
The statement cited a report that said at least one other boat was still at sea, adding that more vessels could soon depart from Myanmar or Bangladesh.
“Theare once again risking their lives in search for a solution,” said Ann Maymann, the U.N. refugee agency’s representative in Indonesia.
A 2020 investigation by AFP revealed a multimillion-dollar, constantly evolving people-smuggling operation stretching from a massive refugee camp in Bangladesh to Indonesia and Malaysia, in which members of the stateless Rohingya community play a key role in trafficking their own people.