Over the past two days more than 900 migrants (believed to be Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh) have been rescued from overcrowded wooden boats near the coastal area of Indonesia’s Aceh province at the northern tip of Sumatra. After being spotted by local fishermen, these boats were towed to Acehnese shore. Meanwhile, in Malaysia more than 1,000 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were found in shallow waters near Langkawi after being abandoned by human traffickers.
The refugees were en route from Thailand to Malaysia. However, several boats drifted away from the planned route (ran out of fuel) and entered Indonesian territory. It is estimated that the boats drifted at sea for about a week. Due to the lack of food and water several people were reported to have died during the journey.
The refugees wanted to leave Thailand as Thai authorities cracked down on human trafficking after the discovery of mass graves at a suspected human trafficking camp near the Thai border with Malaysia.
After coming on shore in Aceh, the refugees were transferred to shelters and underwent immigration, health and security checks. However, these shelters reportedly have become overcrowded while food and drink supplies are thin.
Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing Myanmar (Burma) due to ethnic cleansing of Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country. The Rohingya, who are not officially recognized as citizens in Myanmar, are considered intruders from Bangladesh even though many have lived in Myanmar for several generations. It is estimated by UN refugee agency UNHCR that around 25,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis have boarded human traffickers’ boats during the first three months of 2015, double the amount of refugees in the same period last year. About 300 of these refugees died during the journey due to starvation, dehydration or abuse.