BANGKOK: A boat carrying Rohingya refugees that was forced back to sea earlier this week was sighted Saturday several miles off the coast of Indonesia’s westernmost region, according to a local commander.
The group of around 250 people from the persecuted Myanmar minority arrived off Aceh province on Thursday, but residents told them not to land.
The boat traveled to another location in Aceh where a second group of residents again turned them back to sea late Thursday.
A naval commander in Aceh’s Lhoksemauwe city said on Saturday that the boat was spotted “this morning” and “looks similar” to the one turned back on Thursday, adding that it was heading east.
“At the moment (the boat) is not visible. Maybe it’s beyond the horizon,” Andi Susanto said.
“We are still observing the situation and ready to help if needed,” he added.
The whereabouts of the boat had remained unknown after it was turned away Thursday night.
The commander said the boat was believed to be a few miles off the coast in waters around North Aceh district.
“The permission for the ship’s arrival on the beach is not our authority. As in previous cases, it was handled by the local government with the coastal community and UNHCR,” said Susanto.
Thousands from the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority risk their lives each year to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia via long and treacherous sea journeys, often in flimsy boats.
In a statement Friday, UNHCR called on Indonesia to facilitate the boat’s landing and provide lifesaving assistance to the refugees.
Indonesia, which is not a signatory to a 1951 refugee convention, says it is not compelled to accept arriving Rohingya refugees.
Locals have complained of lacking the resources to absorb hundreds of refugees into their communities. Nearly 600 Rohingya refugees have reached western Indonesia this week, with 196 arriving on Tuesday and 147 on Wednesday, according to local officials.
More than 2,000 Rohingya are believed to have attempted journeys to Southeast Asian countries in 2022, according to the UN agency.
Nearly 200 Rohingya died or went missing last year while attempting hazardous sea crossings, it estimated.