UNHCR and IOM Mobilize Aid for Rohingya Refugees Following Boat Tragedy in Indonesia

Some of the Rohingya rescued at sea, off the coast of Meulaboh, West Aceh, Indonesia, are brought to shore on Thursday. Photo: Faisal Rahman/UNHCR

Some of the Rohingya rescued at sea, off the coast of Meulaboh, West Aceh, Indonesia, are brought to shore on Thursday. Photo: Faisal Rahman/UNHCR

Bangkok, 22 March 2024 – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the UN Migration Agency are shocked and deeply concerned over the situation off the coast of Meulaboh, West Aceh, Indonesia where a vessel transporting more than 140 Rohingya refugees has capsized.

With rescue operations underway on Thursday, around 75 people were safely brought ashore. UNHCR and IOM are extremely concerned about the scale of potential loss of life as the rescued refugees reported a total of 151 on board.

According to initial reports, on 20 March local authorities in West Aceh reported the arrival of six refugees who were rescued by local fishermen from the capsized vessel. The incident reportedly occurred in the early hours of the same day, approximately 12 nautical miles offshore.

The National Search and Rescue Agency from Banda Aceh initiated a rescue mission, and the capsized boat was located in the morning of Thursday 21 March.

UNHCR and IOM teams have been deployed to West Aceh and are prepared to assist local authorities by providing assistance to the survivors of this tragic incident following disembarkation. If confirmed this would be the biggest loss of life so far this year.

This incident comes amid a notable increase in Rohingya refugee boat arrivals in Indonesia. In 2023 alone, more than 2,300 Rohingya refugees arrived, with a significant surge observed from November onwards.  This surpasses the number of arrivals in the previous four years combined.

UNHCR and IOM are bolstering efforts to provide critical humanitarian assistance and protection to refugees arriving in Indonesia.  Both agencies are working closely with government entities, NGO partners, and host communities to enhance the refugees’ protection environment and facilitate access to essential services. Activities include provision of health services (including mental health support), refurbishing temporary shelters, ensuring access to clean water, food, sanitation, and waste management.

UNHCR and IOM express their sincere appreciation to the Indonesian authorities and local communities for their life-saving efforts in rescuing the refugees from the capsized boat in West Aceh.

Authorities’ proactive response demonstrates strong humanitarian leadership, a commitment to Indonesia’s Presidential Regulation on the Handling of Refugees and upholding the principles of humanity during times of crisis as enshrined in the Laws of the Sea.

Amid ongoing challenges in the region, we remind of the need for immediate search as rescue and safe disembarkation. UNHCR and IOM reiterate their call for states to advocate for concerted efforts to ensure safe disembarkation and rescue at sea for all those in distress across the region.

It is also imperative that the international community maintains its commitment to upholding the principles of humanity and protecting the rights and dignity of refugees and migrants.

The region and the international community need to support efforts to address the root causes of displacement in Myanmar. Until these are resolved, refugees will continue to undertake dangerous journeys in search of safety.


For further information, please contact:


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok

Babar Baloch,, +66 80 086 5611


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Indonesia

Mitra Suryono,, +6281119600493


International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok

Itayi Viriri,, +66 65 939 0934


International Organization for Migration (IOM) Indonesia

Ayunda Pratama,, +62 8111219913