Over 30 died during the desperate journey that is understood to have begun from Cox's Bazar, says UNHCR
Having spent seven months at sea, about 300 Rohingyas have been rescued in Indonesia on Monday morning, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Approximately 330 Rohingyas, who believed to have started their journey from Cox's Bazar in February, had to spend more than six months at sea due to failure of the countries along the coast to allow these desperate people to disembark.
Over 30 people are feared to have died during the desperate journey.
"UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, welcomes the life-saving disembarkation of approximately 300 Rohingya refugees off the northern coast of Aceh, Indonesia early this morning," UNHCR Director for Asia and the Pacific Indrika Ratwatte said in statement on Monday.
Having survived some seven months at sea in desperate conditions, an unknown number are in need of medical attention, it said.
Among the group, two of three are women and children. Over 30 are estimated to have died en route, it added.
Acehnese police said a wooden boat carrying the Rohingya was spotted by local fishermen several kilometres (miles) off the coast of Lhokseumawe, before landing at Ujung Blang Beach just after midnight, reports Reuters.
"There are 297 Rohingya according to the latest data, among them 181 women and 14 children," Iptu Irwansya, a local police chief, told reporters.
Junaidi Yahya, head of the Red Cross in Lhokseumawe, said the group was currently being held in a temporary location.
"We hope they can be moved to the evacuation centre today, but their health, especially related to Covid-19, is our main concern," said Yahya.
Among the group was one sick 13-year-old who police said was taken to hospital in an ambulance.
Images of the Rohingya arrivals show lines of women in masks carrying their possessions in plastic bags, and men huddled on the floor of a thatched roof shelter.
The UNHCR statement said: "Approximately 330 Rohingya refugees are understood to have embarked on the journey in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in February.
"Their hazardous ordeal has been prolonged by the collective unwillingness of states to act for more than six months," it said.
Equally, the statement stated that the Bali Process, as the only existing regional coordination mechanism able to convene states on such maritime movements, has failed to deliver comprehensive, regional action to predictably save lives through rescue and disembarkation.
"The group had repeatedly tried to disembark over the course of more than 200 days at sea, to no avail," it said.
"Refugees have reported that dozens passed away throughout the journey. UNHCR and others have repeatedly warned of dire consequences if refugees at sea are not permitted to land in a safe and expedient manner. Ultimately, inaction over the past six months has been fatal," it lamented.
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, a non-profit group focusing on the Rohingya crisis, told Reuters that both Malaysian and Thai authorities had pushed them back, as borders tightened due to coronavirus pandemic.
Smugglers split the passengers into several boats, some of which managed to land in Malaysia and Indonesia in June, but several hundred remained at sea until Sunday night.
The smugglers called their families to demand payments in the weeks before they were taken to shore, Chris Lewa said.
"The smugglers seemed to not want to try to disembark them because not everyone had paid ... They were basically keeping them hostage on the boat," she said.
UNHCR said its staff in Aceh are supporting local authorities to assess the needs of the refugees. The immediate priority is providing first aid and medical care as required. All will be tested for Covid-19 in accordance with standard health measures in Indonesia for all arrivals.
Monday's arrival follows the arrival of another vessel in late June when Acehnese fishermen rescued more than 100 Rohingya refugees, including 79 women and children, after Indonesian authorities had initially threatened to push them back.
Fleeing persecution in Myanmar and refugee camps in Bangladesh, the Rohingyas have for years boarded boats in an attempt to seek refuge in other Southeast Asian nations.
At the time of the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal crisis five years ago, Bali Process states acknowledged the need for a reliable and collective response to this genuinely regional challenge, the statement continued.
Having created a mechanism to convene governments from across the region for precisely this purpose, the promise of that commitment remains unfulfilled, it said.
"A comprehensive and fair response necessarily requires responsibility-sharing and concrete efforts across South East Asia, so that those who permit disembarkation and bring those in distress ashore do not carry a disproportionate burden," concluded the statement.