Rohingyas in local health center in Aceh Utara, Indonesia. (Photo: KBR/Erwin Jalaluddin)

Rohingyas in local health center in Aceh Utara, Indonesia. (Photo: KBR/Erwin Jalaluddin)

At least two overcrowded boats - with many women and children on board - were towed by local fishermen to the shores of Aceh province in Indonesia on Sunday.

Indonesian authorities and aid agencies believe the rescued group had been at sea for about a week.

500 Rohingya are now in the Seunuddon sub-district of North Aceh regency.

Muhammad Malek from Myanmar says they told him they were trying to reach Malaysia but they were abandoned by people smugglers.

“This is Aceh?! We are from villagers and we want to find work and livelihood in Malaysia,” he told locals.   
At least 60 women and 60 children are among this group.

Indonesian health officials say the migrants are in a very poor state. They are suffering from dehydration as well as hunger.

Effendi is the head of the local Health Department in north Aceh. He says the migrants are being treated at a local hospital.  
“There is one pregnant woman in a weak condition and we are taking care of her. Our medical teams are trying to save the mother and her baby. They are not in a good condition because they haven’t had enough food or water. They are seriously dehydrated. All of them are badly dehydrated and they are starving.  Our field team has had to give infusions to around 27 of them,” he said.  

Police chief of North Aceh Achmadi says they are collecting information from the group.

“But the IOM and the UNHCR will be collecting the accurate data from each of them. Maybe the number will increase,” he added.
Rohingya Muslims have been fleeing sectarian violence in Myanmar for many years.

In December, the UN passed a resolution urging Myanmar to give access to citizenship for the Rohingya, many of whom are classed as stateless.

The regent of North Aceh Muhammad Jamil says it’s their duty to help them.
“We have to respond quickly and help them. They were stranded they didn’t intentionally came here. This is a humanitarian issue we have to take care of them. They are also our Muslim brothers and sisters,” he said.

Rights groups are urging Asian governments to save thousands of migrants believed to be stranded at sea in Southeast Asia and at the risk of death.

The International organization of migration says an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats.

But the Indonesian military says that they turned back one boat full of desperate people.

Fuad Basya is the Indonesian military spokesperson.
“In order to guard the border area, we will stop anyone from entering our territory without legal documents. Now we are not the ones who will decide whether these people are different because they have runaway from a hard life.  As the military we can’t decide that.  The other day we saw a boat that was broken and there were people on it who were starving, they had no water and they were in a very bad way on a bad boat so we helped them out,” he told KBR.

They were giving water and food and sent away.

Officials and activist say up to 8,000 Bangladeshis and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar remain trapped in crowded, wooden boats and are calling on Asian governments to take quick action to save them.

The UN estimates some 25,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshis have boarded smugglers' boats between January and March this year, double the amount as over the same period last year.

Bangladeshi coastal guard this week found a boat carrying more than 100 Bangladesi and Rohingya’s from Myanmar at sea in a open boat.  

They were trying to reach Malaysia but were abandoned at sea by their smugglers after they heard there had been a crack down by Thai authorities.

Nur Kabir , a Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar said he was trying to find a better life.
“I came to the coxsbazar sea beach in Bangladesh for a job, for work. But they offered me better job in Malaysia, and asked me to pay only 20000 Taka. Then they forced me to ride on the boat…But you see, now they left us on the sea,” he said.  

Another man on the boat Siraj Ullah said that he was told by the smugglers that the journey to Malaysia would be a easy one.

“They told us, its not big journey. Only two days on the sea. Then once we were in Malaysia the police would take us and then we would be given jobs,” he said.
Another man Habibullah who has a university degree says he was told that he would travel to Malaysia by plane.

“But they said their was no plane from Chittagong , but from Coxsbazar. But after coming here they brought me to sea shore, and they forced me to ride on this boat at gun point. They had a gun and along knife,” he said.  

Bangladeshi law enforce officers have started crackdowning on the traffickers.

Dixon Choudhury is with the Bangladeshi coast guard.
“This time we could not catch the traffickers, but we are searching them on the coastal belt,” he said.   

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