Dozens of starving Rohingya have been rescued in Indonesia after being adrift on a wrecked boat without food or water for more than a month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said on Sunday, offering a helping hand to the persecuted group who fled their refugee camps last month A glimmer of hope in the search for a better life.
Babar Baloch, an Asian spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said 58 people believed to have come from the boat were rescued in Aceh, despite fears for the lives of an estimated 130 others – including many women and children still remain stranded on board the ship – persist.
“Some evidence suggests local Indonesian fishermen may have carried out the rescue,” Baloch said. “We still worry for the lives of (the remaining people). Hoping they will be rescued soon.”
CNN has reached out to Indonesian police for comment but has received no response.
The boat departed from Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, where around 1 million members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority are living in refugee camps after fleeing a brutal killing and burning campaign by the Myanmar military in western Rakhine state.
At various points in its journey, the boat was spotted near India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
Family members and aid agencies have been warning for weeks that those on board the ship are on the verge of starvation after running out of food and water. UNHCR said its previous requests for intervention had been “continuously ignored” by several South and Southeast Asian countries.
The rescue comes just a day after the UN agency said around 180 Rohingya refugees aboard a separate ship missing at sea are now feared dead.
The second boat also began its “ill-fated” voyage in late November and began breaking up in early December, UNHCR said in a statement, citing unconfirmed reports.
“Relatives have lost contact. Last contacts assume everyone is dead,” the statement added. “We hope against all hope that this is not the case.”
Amnesty International appealed to the Indonesian government on Saturday to help rescue and disembark passengers on both boats.
“Many people in Indonesia, Australia and around the world are just ready to celebrate Christmas. The spirit of humanity that is shown at Christmas must prevail at times like these,” the statement read.
“We also call on the Indonesian government to lead a regional initiative to resolve the refugee crisis.”
Since 2020, more than 3,000 Rohingya have attempted the risky journey from Bangladesh by sea, according to the UN. Two-thirds of the refugees are women and children, it said.
Many seek shelter in the overcrowded Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, where conditions are dire and women face sexual assault and violence.
While all countries are obliged under international law to rescue people in distress at sea, quick action is not always taken – especially when it comes to Rohingya refugees.
Passengers have been turned away from some countries, while women reported being attacked during the journey.
According to Baloch, around 2,000 Rohingya made the risky sea voyage in 2022 alone. Of that number, nearly 200 have been reported missing, he added.
If reports of the feared 180 dead are confirmed, it would make this year one of the deadliest for the persecuted group seeking refuge in a third country, Baloch said.
“We hope against all hope that the missing are still alive somewhere out there,” he added. “But if these fears are true, it will be a tragic year of enormous proportions involving desperate people.”