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Over 70 Rohingya dead or missing after boat capsizes off Indonesia’s Aceh

Over 70 Rohingya dead or missing after boat capsizes off Indonesia’s Aceh
Rohingya survivors are evacuated from a capsized wooden boat are being transferred on to a National Search and Rescue boat in the waters off West Aceh, Indonesia, 21 March 2024. Indonesian rescuers had rescued at least 69 Rohingya, who had been discovered by fishermen on 20 March, standing on the hull of their capsized wooden boat in waters near the city of Meulaboh in West Aceh, according to Indonesian national rescue agency Basarnas. EPA-EFE/ZAINAL ABIDIN

JAKARTA, March 22 (Reuters) - More than 70 Rohingya are "presumed dead or missing" after a boat they were on capsized off the coast of Indonesia's Aceh province, while 75 have been rescued, the UNHCR refugee agency said on Friday.

The UNHCR said in a joint statement with the International Organization for Migration that if the death toll was confirmed, it would be the biggest loss of life so far this year.

The alert was raised on Wednesday when fishermen rescued six of the migrants. A fishing community in Aceh said they had been standing on the hull of the boat after it capsized due to high tides.

For years, Rohingya have left Buddhist-majority Myanmar where they are generally regarded as foreign interlopers from South Asia, denied citizenship and subjected to abuse.

More than 2,300 Rohingya arrived in Indonesia last year, UNHCR data showed, surpassing the number of arrivals in the previous four years combined.

The 2023 toll of at least 569 Rohingya dead or missing while trying to flee Myanmar or Bangladesh was the highest since 2014, the UNHCR said in January.

Babar Baloch, a UNHCR Asia spokesperson, told Reuters on Friday there had been 151 people on this latest boat, some 75 of whom have been evacuated by local authorities, while the rest were “presumed dead or missing”.

Faisal Rahman, UNHCR’s protection associate in Aceh, told Reuters the surviving Rohingya were in a good condition and were staying at a Red Cross building in West Aceh.

The immigration agency in Aceh did not respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Alison Williams)

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