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Indonesian Officials Threatened To Tow A Boat Of Sri Lankan Migrants Out To Sea

Authorities have since relented and allowed those on board the boat to disembark.

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The boat had been at sea for about a month before it encountered engine troubles last weekend.

Chaideer Mahyuddin / AFP / Getty Images

Those on board were trying to reach the Australian territory of Christmas Island. The have been moored off the Indonesia province of Aceh for a week.

Officials had refused to let the migrants leave the boat but relented Saturday and allowed them to move to tents on the beach.

Among those on the boat were nine children and a pregnant woman. On Thursday, six women tried to leave the boat as it sat in shallow waters but police fired warning shots, the Associated Press reported.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla ordered Aceh officials to allow the migrants to disembark the vessel Saturday morning.

The Sri Lankans on the boat are believed to be of the Tamil minority who have suffered persecution in their country.

Chaideer Mahyuddin / AFP / Getty Images

"We did not allow them to land because Indonesia is not their destination and they are fit," said Frans Delian, a spokesman for the Aceh government. "We advised them to not continue their journey to Australia but back to their country."

The International Organization for Migration has a team at the site but have been denied access to the migrants.

Chaideer Mahyuddin / AFP / Getty Images

Lilianne Fan, international director of local refugee charity the Geutanyoe Foundation, told the AFP she was happy to see the Sri Lankans had been allowed to leave the boat.

“At this point the most urgent thing from our point of view is that immediate access is given to the UNHCR,” she said.

Amnesty International accused Indonesian authorities of endangering the lives of the migrants by threatening to tow them back out to sea.

Chaideer Mahyuddin / AFP / Getty Images

Josef Benedict, Amnesty campaigns director for South-East Asia and the Pacific, said Friday: “Instead of deploying these crude intimidation tactics that could put the lives of men, women and children at risk, the Indonesian authorities should come together to allow them to disembark safely so the U.N. Refugee Agency can interview them."

Alicia Melville-Smith is a homepage editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Alicia Melville-Smith at alicia.melville-smith@buzzfeed.com.

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