JAKARTA (Reuters) – An Indonesian navy vessel in Aceh drove away a boat carrying Rohingya from Myanmar, a military spokesperson said, as growing numbers of would-be refugees from the strife-torn country face hostility from locals.
The wooden boat was encountered in waters near Weh Island, off Sumatra, military spokesperson Nugraha Gumilar said.
The Indonesian military vessel “shadowed” the vessel, which it believed to be carrying the Rohingya, a persecuted Myanmar Muslim-minority, until it was outside Indonesian waters and “would not return”.
There are no estimates of how many Rohingya were on the boat, Nugraha said.
Indonesia’s foreign ministry referred inquiries to the coordinating ministry for political, legal, and security affairs, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Over 1,500 Rohingya have landed in Indonesia since November, according to data from the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNCHR), facing increasing hostility and rejection as locals grow frustrated at the numbers of boats arriving.
On Wednesday, a large crowd of Indonesian students stormed a convention centre housing hundreds of Rohingya in the Aceh capital, calling for their deportation.
The UNHCR said it was “deeply disturbed to see a mob attack on a site sheltering vulnerable refugee families.”
For years, Rohingya have left Myanmar, where they are generally regarded as foreign interlopers from South Asia, denied citizenship and subjected to abuse. They usually leave mostly to Indonesia or neighbouring Malaysia from November to April, when the seas are calmer.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees but has a history of taking in refugees if they arrive.
Indonesia has urged Myanmar authorities to halt violence against Rohingya Muslims and says it will crack down on suspected human traffickers involved in the latest wave of arrivals.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)