Hundreds of refugees rescued off Indonesian coast

REF: About 400 refugees have been rescued by local fishermen in the Strait of Malacca, off Indonesia’s Aceh province, after reportedly being turned away numerous times from the Thai and Malaysian coasts by authorities.

Khairul Nova, a search and rescue official, said the rescue took place at 2am local time on Wednesday (19:00 GMT Tuesday) and those saved included woman and children. Those rescued were taken to Simpang Tiga village, in East Aceh district, he said.

Migrants on a boat which made international headlines last week when it was found floating off Thailand’s coast, after its captain and crew had apparently fled, are believed to be among those rescued, Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen reported.

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Witnesses in Aceh said that many of the rescued migrants were in tears when they made it to land, with many very sick and weak.

Migrants told Al Jazeera they had been sent away by the Thai navy on three occasions and Malaysian authorities twice.

The second time they were rebuffed by Malaysian authorities, they say they were held at gunpoint and told that their ship would be bombed if they did not turn around.

About 1,500 Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar, fleeing persecution, and Bangladeshis, seeking to escape grinding poverty, have already arrived in Aceh in recent days after being abandoned by people smugglers.

They are among several thousands who have made it to land in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand after being dumped by smugglers following the disruption of long-established human-trafficking routes.

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Malaysia’s foreign minister was hosting his Indonesian and Thai counterparts on Wednesday for urgent talks on the refugee crisis, with pressure mounting on them to help thousands of starving refugees.

The three nations have sparked outrage by turning away vessels overloaded with migrants.

Myanmar said on Wednesday it was “ready to provide humanitarian assistance” to refugees, in its most conciliatory comments yet.

A foreign ministry statement in state media said Myanmar “shares concerns” of the international community and is “ready to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who suffered in the sea”.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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