Jakarta – More than 370 migrants and asylum seekers were rescued off Aceh province early Wednesday, an official said.
Fishermen brought the dehydrated and hungry boat people ashore from two vessels after midnight, said Khairul Nova, the chief of the search and rescue agency in the town of Langsa.
“They were very weak,” Khairul said, adding that those rescued included men, women and children.
The rescue came despite calls by the military for fishermen not to help migrant boats reach the country’s shores unless they are sinking or their boats stall.
“Our intelligence indicates there’s a new modus operandi: They threw people overboard so that they will be saved by fishermen” Armed Forces spokesman Fuad Basya said.
“So we urge the fishermen not to take the refugees and evacuate them, unless they are sinking or the engine of their boat stalls,” he said.
Fuad said it was the military’s duty to safeguard the country’s territorial sovereignty.
“We can’t allow people to enter with documents, unless there’s approval from the Foreign Ministry,” he said.
The latest arrivals brought to nearly 1,800 the number of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants rescued off Aceh this month.
Before the latest influx, Indonesia was already sheltering nearly 12,000 refugees and asylum seekers from 40 countries, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir.
Only 500 asylum seekers were resettled to a third country every year after the verification of their refugee status, he said.
“We have shouldered our share of responsiblity and it’s a burden,” said Arrmanatha said.
“This problem must be solved in a comprehensive way involving the source, transit and destination countries,” he said.
“It is a complex problem because not only does it involves people seeking asylum, but also people-smuggling and human trafficking.”
Foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand were meeting Wednesday near Kuala Lumpur to discuss the problem.