Hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were rescued by fishermen off the coast of northern Indonesia’s Aceh in May, at a time when the official response of the Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai governments to the ongoing migrant crisis was to push the boats back out to sea.
Those rescued are now being sheltered in four different camps in Aceh Province. While the conditions in the camps are far from perfect, the newcomers have been welcomed with open arms by the Acehnese people.
Acehnese singer and member of the Jakarta senate Rafly on 5 June held a concert in the city of Lhokseumawe, at which the migrant guests were also honoured with a performance of traditional Achehnese rapai pasee drumming – supposedly the same welcome that Marco Polo received when he arrived in Aceh many centuries ago.
While it has been announced that the Bangladeshi migrants will be repatriated at some point in the coming months, the future of the Rohingya in Aceh is uncertain. Facing apartheid-like conditions, and what some human rights groups have described as ethnic cleansing, in Burma, to many it is out of the question to send them back to their country of origin.
The process of resettlement of the migrants to third-party countries may take longer than the year that has been initially stated by the Indonesian government. But there are many Acehnese voices calling to allow the Rohingya to settle permanently.