At least 252 “starving” people who identified themselves as Bangladeshi were found in cramped conditions in two shops in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, an immigration official said Thursday.
The migrants were “were starving and making a commotion” when found in the provincial capital Medan on Wednesday, North Sumatra immigration chief Icon Siregar said.
It was not clear if the migrants had come to Indonesia legally or illegally, but told authorities they were looking for work in Malaysia.
He added that it was not clear how long they had been in the buildings.
“They may have come legally by boat and are waiting to be taken to Malaysia,” he said. “We are still looking for their travel documents.”
The migrants have been taken to an immigration detention centre in Medan.
In recent years, boats carrying members of the persecuted Rohingya community in Myanmar have become stranded on Sumatra on their way to a third country.
Since violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya have left the country by boat. Hundreds of thousands have fled across the border in the last 18 months to Bangladesh, where they are confined to camps.
Jakarta – The Indonesian military has urged fishermen not to help Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants to reach the country’s shores unless their boat is sinking.
Armed forces spokesman Fuad Basya said three navy ships and an aircraft had been deployed to patrol the sea to prevent migrant boats from entering Indonesian territory.
“Our intelligence indicates there’s a new modus operandi: They threw people overboard so that they will be saved by fishermen” Fuad 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.
More than 1,300 Rohingya and Bangladeshi refugees have been rescued off Aceh province by fishermen and the navy.
Their refugee status is being verified by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and IOM. It is believed that most of the Bangladeshis are economic migrants seeking work in Malaysia.
Thousands of others are believed to be still drifting at sea after they were turned away by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
One of the refugees sheltered in Aceh, Saidul Islam, told reporters that about 100 people died at sea in a fight over remaining food.
“We had food but they didn’t have. The Bengals attacked us with knives, sickles, hammers and cables,” he told Acehkita.com website on Friday.