HEALTH workers check a Rohingya refugee who was feeling sick after his arrival by boat in Indonesia’s Aceh province on Sunday.—AFP

At least 180 ethnic Rohingya stranded at sea for weeks after leaving Bangladesh in November are feared dead, as their rickety boat is thought to have sunk this month, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

Citing unconfirmed reports, the agency said the “unseaworthy” boat probably sank after it went missing in the sea. “Relatives have lost contact,” the UNHCR wrote on Twitter on Saturday.

Last week, two Myanmar Rohingya activist groups said up to 20 people died of hunger or thirst on a boat that was stranded at sea for two weeks off India’s coast. The boat with at least 100 people was said to be in Malaysian waters. A broken-down boat carrying 57 Rohingya refugees landed on Indonesia’s western coast on Sunday after a month at sea, police said.

“Those last in touch presume all are dead.” More than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are living in crowded camps in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, including tens of thousands who fled Myanmar after its military conducted a deadly crackdown in 2017.

Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan navy rescued 104 Rohingya adrift off the Indian Ocean island’s northern coast.

Survivors land in Indonesia

Thousands of the mostly Muslim Rohingya, heavily persecuted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, risk their lives each year on long, expensive sea journeys — often in poor-quality vessels — in an attempt to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.

The wooden vessel with 57 men on board arrived around 8am local time (0100 GMT) on a beach in the westernmost Aceh province, local police spokesman Winardy said.

“The boat had a broken engine and it was carried by the wind to a shore in Ladong Village in Aceh Besar (district),” Winardy, who goes by one name, said.

“They said they have been drifting at sea for a month.” Winardy added that police arrived at the beach after being informed by some locals that the boat had docked there.

He said four of the men on board were sick and had been transported to a hospital.

Telmaizul Syatri, the head of the local immigration office, said the refugees will be temporarily housed at a local government facility.

“We will coordinate with the International Organisation for Migration and the UNHCR so that it can be handled well,” Syatri said.

This is the third Rohingya refugee boat to arrive in Muslim-majority Indonesia in recent months.

Two boats carrying a total of 229 Rohingya landed in Aceh on Nov 15 and 16, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Sunday’s arrival comes after the UNHCR and Southeast Asian politicians called for the rescue of another vessel carrying as many as 200 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, which has been stranded at sea for several weeks.

That boat has been reported in waters close to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India in the Andaman Sea and the Malacca Strait, one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

The UNHCR said last week that it has been in the water since late November, and it had received reports of at least a dozen people dying on board. Those left on the boat have no access to food or water.

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