Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Boat people rescued off Indonesia

Two Rohingya migrants in a police van, 28/01
The Thai authorities have been criticised for their treatment of Rohingya people

A group of nearly 200 people has been rescued from a wooden boat adrift off the coast of Aceh after 21 days at sea, Indonesian officials say.

They are thought to be Burmese Rohingya - a Muslim minority group not recognised by Burma's military rulers.

It is the second group of Rohingya to arrive in Indonesia in a month.

The plight of the boat-people has been highlighted recently because of allegations those found in Thai waters are mistreated by the Thai authorities.

They don't have ID cards and they are subject to some absolutely appalling treatment of violence [in Burma]
David Mathieson
Human Rights Watch

Indonesian navy officials said the small boat, which was so packed with people that many were forced to stand, was spotted by fishermen on Monday.

Those on board had run out of food and water, and more than 50 are being treated in hospital in Indonesia for severe dehydration.

One of the survivors, who gave his name as Rahmat, told the BBC that 220 people were originally on the boat but 22 had died at sea.

Rahmat said he was from Burma but had travelled to Thailand, where he found work as a fisherman and food vendor.

"I was caught by Thai police and was thrown to the sea... We didn't do anything wrong, we just worked. We are poor, we work to get our daily food," he told the BBC's Indonesian service.

Humane treatment

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok says the fact that their boat had no engine suggests that they too were victims of the callous expulsion policy operated by the Thai military up until last month.


At least 1,000 Rohingya are already known to have been towed out into the Andaman Sea by the Thai navy and then set adrift. Hundreds are thought to have perished.

But our correspondent says that total may be higher if this boat turns out to be part of another large group thought to have been cast out by Thailand last month.

The policy has provoked huge international protest and the Thai prime minister has promised more humane treatment of the Rohingya in future, who have long suffered abuses at the hands of the Burmese military.

Thailand insists the Rohingya are economic migrants not refugees, and should be deported.

In a statement last week Burma's military government denied the existence of the Rohingya, saying they are not officially recognised as one of the country's 100 or so ethnic groups.

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the Rohingya in Burma suffer from religious persecution, abuses and limits on their basic freedoms to be able to work and travel.

"They don't have ID cards and they are subject to some absolutely appalling treatment of violence... and this has been happening for more than 30 years," HRW spokesman David Mathieson told the BBC.

There are thought to be up to one million Rohingya living in Burma. Hundreds of thousands have fled overseas, mainly to neighbouring Bangladesh, and to Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

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