LHOKSEUMAWE, (Indonesia): Nearly 300 Rohingya migrants reached Indonesia on Monday claiming to have been at sea for seven months, the United Nations refugee agency said, in one of the biggest such landings by the persecuted Myanmar minority in years.
The migrants - including more than a dozen children - were spotted on a wooden boat by locals who helped them land near Lhokseumawe city on Sumatra's northern coast, officials said.
But as many as 30 may have died during the perilous high-seas voyage, the UN said, adding that the group left from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh in February. Around one million Muslim Rohingya live in cramped and squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh - next to their native Myanmar - where human traffickers run lucrative operations promising to find them sanctuary abroad.
Muslim-majority Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia are favoured destinations for the minority group after many fled following a military crackdown in Myanmar three years ago. "Having survived some seven months at sea in desperate conditions, an unknown number are in need of medical attention," said UNHCR, citing survivor accounts.
"Over 30 are estimated to have died en route."
Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project - an NGO that focuses on the Rohingya crisis - said the migrants may have been held at sea while traffickers extorted money from their families. "These people were actually kept hostage," she said.