Indonesian Fishermen Are Heroes For Stranded Migrants

For the past week, there has been much talk about what is to become of the 3,000 migrants from Burma and Bangladesh left at sea.  

It was at the scene, however, where heroes emerged.

“We helped them because they needed help,” said Myusup Mansur, a fisherman from the small island village of Pusung. 

“What is more human than that?”

While governments lingered and politicians dillydallied, Indonesian fisherman urgently filled the humanitarian void. 

When Mansur was made aware of the struggle for survival on the horizon, he jumped to the rescue. What he saw when he got there was hysteria.  

“I was lost for words,” he said. “I was panicked, because I have never seen so many people in the water like that. I kept pulling them from the water one by one. I couldn’t count how many, but my boat was full. After that I couldn’t take any more and there were still people crying for help."

It was two hours before 6 larger fishing boats, also out at sea, arrived to help. Their day was spent, not pulling fish aboard, but people. Migrants chased out of their homelands, now fighting for survival, were finally offered a helping hand. 

In order to collect the remaining woman and children on board, Mansur had to link his small turquoise and orange boat to the migrant vessel. He said he would do the same again. 

The Indonesian and Malaysian governments have heeded the call to action, and will accept the refugees - provided they are resettled by the international community within a year. 

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, however, has maintained his nation’s hard line regarding the “Boat People.” Despite the ongoing persecution that the Rohingya people continue to suffer, there will be no respite provided by the region's most economically prosperous nation.

This comes not long after Australia’s accusations of Indonesia’s poor observance of human rights over the Bali 9

How strange it is that there are many different shades of human rights to the eye of the beholder. 

The average Indonesian, however, does not suffer such humanitarian blindness. 

Suryadi, 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.”

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the fisherman were from Aceh, where over 100,000 people died in the Tsunami of 2004. Helping those in need is second nature.

When Mansur collected 30 women and children at sea and made the six-hour journey back to Pusung, the migrants were greeted with open arms. “We bought them a big bunch of bananas and water and they all bathed in our homes,” said Saipul Umar, 54. “They were so weak, especially the small children. They were traumatised.”

The migrants were given food, water, coffee and cakes, and a place to wash. “We treated them like family,” said Sulaiman, 76. Others asked what made them leave their homeland.

After learning about the treatment of the ethnic Rohingya in Burma, where they are persecuted and denied citizenship, one village resident said that perhaps the migrants should have made Pusung their new home.

“They wanted to live here,” she said, “They didn’t want to go.”

When the international community wants to further alienate the "Boat People,” trust the ordinary Indonesian to treat foreigners like family and make them feel at home. If it were them in charge of international policy, the world would certainly be a more welcoming place.