Immigration

Indonesian fishermen rescue stranded Rohingya who wanted to reach Australia

An Rohingya man is assisted by a paramedic after being brought ashore in Aceh, Indonesia. Source: AAP

A boatload of 76 Rohingya Muslims has landed on the northeast coast of Sumatra in Indonesia.

Indonesian fishermen have rescued 76 Rohingya Muslims stranded off the coast of Aceh, authorities said, in the latest attempt by members of the persecuted ethnic group to flee Myanmar by sea.

The police chief of Bireuen regency in Aceh on the island of Sumatra, Riza Yulianto, said the group of eight children, 25 women and 43 men was brought ashore in their wooden boat on Friday afternoon. It was unclear how long they had been at sea.

Aceh's Disaster Mitigation Agency said the Rohingya told local authorities that they wanted to reach Australia.

The agency was coordinating with the local government to provide temporary shelter. It said seven people were given medical treatment.

Officials were interviewing the refugees, and villagers had donated clothes and food, said Hidayatullah from the local civic group Rapid Response Action.

Hidayatullah, who uses one name, said fisherman went to the aid of the Rohingya after seeing the boat at about 2pm. Its sail wasn't working, he said.

Myanmar's persecution of its Rohingya Muslim minority has sparked an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people over land into neighbouring Bangladesh since August. Some have also tried to flee by boat.

An Indonesian fishing boat rescued a group of five Rohingya Muslims found in weak condition off westernmost Aceh province on April 6 after a 20-day voyage in which five other people died.

Just days before, Malaysian authorities intercepted a vessel carrying 56 people believed to be Rohingya refugees and brought the vessel and its passengers to shore.

About 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar's western Rakhine state to neighbouring Bangladesh in the past seven months to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by Myanmar's army.

Rohingya, treated as undesirables in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar and denied citizenship, used to flee by sea by the thousands each year until security in Myanmar was tightened after a surge of refugees in 2015 caused regional concern.

That exodus peaked in 2015, when an estimated 25,000 people fled across the Andaman Sea for Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, many drowning in unsafe and overloaded boats.

Last year, according to rights groups and the United Nations, some 700,000 Rohingya fled from their homes in Myanmar to Bangladesh after Rohingya militant attacks in August sparked a military crackdown that the UN and Western nations have called ethnic cleansing.

Buddhist-majority Myanmar rejects the accusation, saying its forces have been waging a legitimate campaign against "terrorists" who attacked government forces.

Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, usually accepts asylum seekers arriving by boat but they have limited rights and many end up spending years in camps and detention centres.

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