While governments around the region have refused to receive what is thought to be thousands of migrants from Burma and Bangladesh stranded and starving in the Andaman Sea, the fishermen of Indonesia have stepped up to fill the humanitarian void.
“We helped them because they needed help,” said Mansur, 38. “What is more human than that?” He said he would do the same again if faced with another similar situation.
Suryadi, who only uses one name, from the fishermen association in Langsa, Aceh, said: “We helped out of solidarity. If we find someone in the ocean we have to help them no matter who they are. The police did not like us helping but we could not avoid it. Our sense of humanity was higher. So we just helped with the limited resources that we had at the time.”
Six hundred and seventy-seven migrants were brought ashore late last Thursday by Mansur and his fellow fishermen. The fishermen laboured together, pulling the migrants from the sea and transferring them from boat to boat.
Andreas Harsono, from Human Rights Watch in Jakarta, said the fishermen were offering assistance that official channels had failed to provide. “The fact that these fishermen are helping these people shows that they have a better humanitarian understanding than government officials in Jakarta,” he said. Harsono said that in Aceh, a province that in the past was wracked by a decades-long separatist conflict, people understood suffering and the value of compassion.