Apriza Pinandita, Jakarta – The Indonesian government has said that it has provided emergency assistance to dozens of Rohingya refugees who found themselves stranded in northern Aceh waters.
The 94 refugees, consisting of 49 women, 15 men and 30 children, were rescued by local fishermen on Wednesday.
The fishermen – Faisal, 40, Abdul Azis, 40, and Raja, 30 – rescued the foreign nationals from a sinking cargo ship using their fishing boat, the KM 2017.811, kompas.com reported.
Foreign Minister Retno LP Marsudi said on Thursday that the emergency assistance was given based on humanitarian considerations, despite the border restrictions Indonesia has in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"At the same time, we will continue to work with countries in the region through various mechanisms on early detection measures, as well as to prevent boat people from taking unsafe journeys at sea from their country of origin," Retno said in Thursday's press briefing.
According to reports, the refugees would be returned to sea once their boat is repaired.
The North Aceh administration said that, based on a meeting conducted by the regency's consultative leadership board (Muspida), the authorities agreed to let the Rohingya continue their journey to their initial destination.
"What has been conveyed by the regional leadership communication forum [Forkopimda], we will follow. We have also performed COVID-19 tests on [the refugees]. We have followed all of the health protocols," North Aceh administration regional secretary Risawan Bentara said as quoted by kompas.com on Thursday.
Currently, the Rohingya refugees are being held in a temporary shelter in Lhokseumawe. They were said to be in weak condition and authorities were providing them with food.
Several countries in Southeast Asia have imposed strict restrictions at their borders since the start of the pandemic, including restrictions on the entry of refugees to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
Malaysia, for instance, is considering a plan to turn back nearly 300 Rohingya refugees who were detained by local authorities after they arrived last week on a damaged boat, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, authorities in North Aceh said they had considered many options before deciding that they would release the refugees back to sea.
"After we repair their boat, we will provide them with fuel for the boat. The Indonesian Navy and the Water and Air Police Unit will escort them until they leave Indonesian waters," North Aceh's 011 Lilawangsa military resort commander Col. Inf. Sumirating Baskoro said on Thursday.
Though an official decision on the matter from the Aceh government is pending, the Indonesian government in general remains attentive toward the Rohingya crisis.
During the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting earlier this week, Retno said that the migration of boat people could not be separated from the crisis. "An accelerated repatriation process is key," she said.