TNI orders Achenese not to rescue refugees ‘even if their boats are sinking’

BBC News Indonesia – May 18, 2015
Rohingya refugees in Aceh - Undated (Tribune)
Rohingya refugees in Aceh - Undated (Tribune)

The Indonesian military (TNI) has prohibited fisherpeople operating in Indonesia’s northern most province of Aceh from picking up or bringing back ethnic Rohingya stranded at sea in Indonesian territorial waters, except in the case of boats that are sinking, according to the TNI’s spokesperson.

“Otherwise our fisherpeople will be picking them up (Rohingya) beyond our territorial waters, [who will] then get out of their boats and board fisherpeople’s sailboats, and enter our territory. We have prohibited that”, TNI spokesperson Fuad Basya told BBC Indonesia journalist Heyder Affan on the afternoon of Monday May 18.

Earlier, a number of fisherpeople from Aceh said they had been prohibited from picking up or bringing back illegal migrants originating from Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Speaking with the BBC, two Acehnese fisherpeople said they had been prohibited from rescuing Rohingya refugees in the sea, “Even if their boats are sinking”.

Fuad Basya denied this. He said that the TNI had not prohibited efforts at rescuing the refugees when, “...their boats are sinking or they are floating adrift in the sea and do not have a boat”.

Basya said that foreigners entering Indonesian territorial land must have official documents. “The TNI has an obligation to safeguard Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty, including at sea”, he said.

The TNI has tightened up patrols in Sumatran waters in order to prevent the arrival of illegal migrants.

Called on to help

Earlier, a number of Achenese fisherpeople said that they felt called upon to help the refugees, some of whom are ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar.

“We heard shouts of Allahu Akbar [God is Great] and some of the men jumped into the sea to reach our boats”, one of the fisherpeople Ar Rahman explained to BBC Indonesia journalist Sri Lestari.

Ar Rahman said that hundreds of Rohingya refugees were rolling badly when he and other fisherpeople reached the location after receiving information from radio communication between sailors.

Speaking with the BBC, an elderly Acehnese fisherperson named Yahya Hanafiah – whose nickname is Commander of the Sea – said that he had received requests from Acehnese fisherpeople to rescue the refugees stranded at sea.

“We asked fisherpeople in Aceh to rescue them for the sake of humanity, because our lives move in cycles right, who knows if later we will be in need”, explained Hanafiah.

The hundreds of refugees who have been placed in the Kuala Langsa Aceh Port building came from a boat that was floundering in the sea after they were refused permission to enter Indonesia and Malaysia by the two countries navies.

[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was TNI melarang nelayan Aceh membawa pengungsi Rohingya ke wilayah Indonesia.]