Dozens of Rohingya refugees rescued from overturned boat in Indian Ocean | Rohingya

Dozens of Rohingya refugees have been rescued from the Indian Ocean off the coast of Indonesia after spending the night balanced on the hull of their overturned boat.

Seventy-five people were pulled from the stricken vessel, which was spotted on Thursday by an Indonesian search and rescue ship.

Survivors said the boat had capsized on Wednesday. Men, women and children, weak and soaked from the night’s rain, wept as the rescue operation got under way and they were taken onboard a rubber dinghy to the rescue boat.

There were contradictory reports about whether anyone had died, with survivors saying many who had been onboard when their boat left Bangladesh were still unaccounted for, but authorities said everyone had been rescued.

Samira, 17, who was among the refugees from the Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh, who had been travelling to Malaysia, said there had been 146 people onboard, raising the prospect that 71 could be missing at sea.

She said the boat began foundering three days previously and capsized on Wednesday, adding that her nephew was among those unaccounted for. “All of us are very sad,” she said. “We are very hungry and weak.”

When fishing vessels reached the scene on Wednesday, desperate refugees clambered on to one of the boats, overloading it and causing it also to capsize. It was not immediately clear what happened to its crew.

After Indonesian authorities were informed by the fishers about the refugees’ plight, an official search and rescue team set off from Banda Aceh city on Wednesday evening. They reached the area of the accident early the next morning and initially could not find the capsized boat.

Rohingya refugees waiting for food in a Bangladesh camp. Many families are trying to flee the overcrowded camps for neighbouring countries. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP

When they came upon it at midday, they found the refugees on its hull. They rescued 42 men, 18 women and nine children and took some to a temporary shelter in the Aceh Besar district and others to a local hospital.

Amiruddin, a tribal fishing community leader in Aceh Barat district, said those rescued indicated that the boat was sailing east when it started leaking and strong currents pushed it toward the west of Aceh.

About 740,000 Rohingya had earlier fled to Bangladesh to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by security forces in their homeland of Myanmar.

However, thousands have since been trying to flee Bangladesh’s overcrowded camps for neighbouring countries, with Indonesia experiencing an increase in refugees since November, which prompted it to call on the international community for help. Some Rohingya arriving in Aceh face hostility from fellow Muslims.

Indonesia, like Thailand and Malaysia, is not a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention outlining refugees’ legal protections, and so is not obliged to accept refugees. However, these countries have so far provided temporary shelter to refugees in distress.

Last year, nearly 4,500 Rohingya, two-thirds of them women and children, fled Myanmar and the refugee camps of neighbouring Bangladesh by boat, the UN refugee agency reported. Of those, 569 died or went missing while crossing the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, the highest death toll since 2014.

Returning safely to Myanmar is virtually impossible because the military that attacked them overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government in 2021. No country has offered the Rohingya any large-scale resettlement opportunities.

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