Four Indonesians arrested over Rohingya refugees smuggling

The suspects are accused of trafficking Rohingya refugees whose boat capsized off the coast of Indonesia’s western Aceh Province last month

Four Indonesians have been arrested in connection with the smuggling of dozens of Rohingya refugees whose boat capsized in waters off the archipelago’s westernmost coast last month, police said Tuesday.

Authorities rescued 69 Rohingya refugees last month off the western coast of Aceh Province, clinging to the hull of an overturned boat for more than a day. Six others were saved by fishermen a day earlier.

The bodies of 16 Rohingya refugees were also recovered after the boat capsized with around 150 people believed to be aboard.

Police in Aceh said three alleged middlemen were rescued as part of the group and then arrested. A fourth was arrested after the other suspects were questioned.

The men had allegedly travelled out to sea to pick up the refugees, on board another boat from Bangladesh, with the aim of transporting them to Malaysia.

“After being picked up from Sabang Island, the Rohingya refugees were to be transported to North Sumatra Province by trucks before crossing to Malaysia,” West Aceh police chief Andi Kirana told a news conference.

One of the suspects, identified as HS, said that he received five million rupiah (US$314) per refugee from an agent in Malaysia, Kirana said. The three others were accused of driving boats out to sea to pick up the refugees.

Authorities are still searching for four more suspects, the alleged “masterminds” behind the smuggling of Rohingya refugees to Aceh, Kirana added.

Many Rohingya make the perilous 4,000km (2,500-mile) journey from Bangladesh to Malaysia, fuelling a multimillion dollar human-smuggling operation that often involves stopovers in Indonesia.

The mostly Muslim ethnic Rohingya are heavily persecuted in Myanmar, and thousands risk their lives each year on the long and expensive sea journeys.

According to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, 1,752 Rohingya refugees, predominantly women and children, arrived in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces between mid-November and late January.

The UNHCR said it was the largest inflow into the Muslim-majority country since 2015, fuelled by deteriorating conditions in Bangladesh camps and the ongoing danger of violence in the Rohingya’s home country, Myanmar.

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