By Hidayatullah Tahjuddin
KRUENGGEUKUH, Indonesia – More than 100 Rohingya refugees who had been adrift on a sinking boat off the western coast of Indonesia were allowed to disembark early on Friday, after authorities relented following international pressure to give them refuge.
In a video seen by Reuters, the group, consisting of mainly women and children, left the boat in heavy rain and boarded a bus, while authorities sprayed them with disinfectant.
The refugees had been packed into a wooden skiff, which appeared to have a makeshift sail.
Oktina Hafanti, an official at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters that the 105 refugees, including 50 women and 47 children, would be kept in quarantine for 10 to 14 days and undergo health checks.
They would later be sent to shelters in the Indonesian cities of Medan and Surabaya, the local mayor Suaidi Yahya said.
The group of Rohingya, which also included some pregnant women, had been spotted by fisherman off the coast of Aceh province on Sunday after spending 28 days at sea.
Authorities had initially agreed to provide humanitarian aid before planning to turn the vessel away, but changed that decision after warnings about the condition of the vessel and calls from UNHCR and groups such as Amnesty International to let the boat land.
A fisherman who had approached the boat when it was at sea said the vessel had sustained engine damages and was leaking, and was at risk of sinking. He also said some refugees had indicated that they needed food.
Usman Hamid, executive director for Amnesty International’s Indonesia chapter, said the government had reacted late but appreciated that authorities had listened to Acehnese fishermen and accepted the refugees.
The vessel was towed by an Indonesian navy ship on Thursday to shore.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention on Refugees and is predominately seen as a transit country for those seeking asylum to a third country.
Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar have for years sailed to countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia between November and April when the seas are calm. Hundreds of them came to Aceh in intervals in recent years.
Many have been turned away, at times after spending months at sea.