‘They are human too’: Indonesia locals rescue Rohingya refugees barred by Covid fears

Rohingya refugees off the coast of Indonesia on Thursday, June 25, 2020.
Rohingya refugees off the coast of Indonesia on Thursday, June 25, 2020. © AFP / FRANCE 24

Locals in Aceh province, Indonesia, rescued a group of Rohingya refugees stranded at sea on Thursday after authorities refused to let them come ashore for fear they may be carrying the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Advertising

The 94 refugees, including 30 children, were reportedly found earlier this week in a sinking cargo ship, adrift in the water off the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

They were initially rescued on Wednesday by local fishermen who brought them closer to shore. But authorities refused to let the boat they were in land and on Thursday morning said they would send the refugees back out to sea.

Locals then took matters into their own hands, however, towing the boat to shore and helping to carry emaciated passengers and small children to land.

“If the government is incapable, us the community will bring help to them, because we are human beings and they (the Rohingya refugees) are human too and we have a heart,” local resident Syaiful Amri told Reuters.

In the face of protests by angry locals, authorities then said the refugees will now be given temporary accommodation and health checks to make sure they are virus-free.

Indonesia is a common destination for Muslim Rohingya fleeing persecution in mostly Buddhist Myanmar and overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh, and hundreds have died attempting perilous sea crossings in recent years.

The crisis has worsened this year with many countries shutting their doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning