UNHCR, THE UN REFUGEE AGENCY, says it was relieved to see more than 200 desperate people being brought ashore to safety in north-west Indonesia over the past week. Many among them are believed to have been adrift for at least a month, without any help before being rescued.

Indonesian fishermen and local authorities rescued and disembarked two groups, some 58 on Sunday 25 December and a further 174 – including a majority of women and children – on Monday.

“We welcome this act of humanity by local communities and authorities in Indonesia”, said Ann Maymann, UNHCR Representative in Indonesia. “These actions help to save human lives from certain death, ending torturous ordeals for many desperate people”, she added.

Those rescued are exhausted and dehydrated after a month of being adrift in regional seas. Survivors told UNHCR that some 26 people have died during this long journey owing to dire conditions onboard.

UNHCR is attending those brought ashore, together with local authorities and humanitarian partner staff. Many require urgent medical attention to stabilise their condition. The agency is also rushing more supplies and staff to help local communities and local authorities support those rescued.

More than 2000 desperate people are reported to have taken risky sea journeys in the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal this year. Nearly 200 are reported to have died. UNHCR has also received unconfirmed reports that one additional boat with some 180 people is still missing, with all passengers presumed dead.

Indonesia has helped to save 472 people in the past six weeks from four boats, showing its commitment and respect of basic humanitarian principles for people who face persecution and conflict. UNHCR urges other States to follow this example. Many others did not act despite numerous pleas and appeals for help.

UNHCR says states in the region must fulfil their legal obligations by saving people on boats in distress to avoid further misery and deaths.

* Source: UNHCR