AP (Kyodo), Jakarta: A small, wooden boat carrying 191 people from Myanmar was stranded on a tiny island off the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island due to engine failure Wednesday, local government officials told Kyodo News.
Local fishermen discovered the men, between 17 to 30 years old, adrift off Aceh Province’s Weh Island north of Sumatra at 7 a.m.
The fishermen then reported their presence to the navy.
“We haven’t been able to find out where they are going to due to the language barrier,” Islamudin, deputy mayor of Sabang, the main city on Weh, told Kyodo News.
It was not immediately clear when they left Myanmar, but Marsudi Rasyid, head of the Immigration Agency in Sabang, said 79 of them were suffering fatigue and have been receiving medical treatment at Navy Hospital.
According to Rasyid, the boat people will be handed over to the International Organization of Migration later.
So far, the ethnicity of the Myanmar refugees has been unclear.
In 2006, a boat carrying 77 Myanmar asylum seekers was also stranded on an Aceh island. All of the asylum seekers were minority Muslim Arakanese, also known as Rohingya.
At that time, they sought political asylum in Malaysia because they had been living under the oppression of Myanmar’s junta.
Since Myanmar got independence in 1948, the Arakanese have undergone a history of exodus and forced migration resulting from the policies of exclusion imposed on them by successive Myanmar governments.
They have also been targeted for compulsory labor in the construction and maintenance of military camps, military-owned farms and plantations.
Most of them fled to Bangladesh, many others to Malaysia.
Many have also applied for asylum, but usually they are not accepted as refugees fleeing persecution.