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HomeBreakingProtests flare up against Rohingya refugees in Indonesia's Aceh

Protests flare up against Rohingya refugees in Indonesia’s Aceh


The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calls for calm as protesters in Indonesia stormed a refugee shelter housing Rohingya on Dec. 27. The protesters broke through a police cordon and forced 137 refugees onto trucks to be relocated to another facility in Banda Aceh, located in Indonesia’s westernmost province.

“As we mentioned during the protest, if the government is not able to deport these ethnic Rohingya out of Aceh province, then I am sure that students will fight, in [greater] number against the government’s policy,” said Wariza Anis Munandar, 23, an Indonesian student living in Aceh.

The U.N. says the attack on refugees is a part of a coordinated online campaign of false information and hate speech against the Rohingya. On Wednesday, Indonesian police paraded in front of cameras a 53-year-old Rohingya suspected of smuggling refugees to Indonesia.

Police said the Rohingya man with the initials “HB”, and a Bangladeshi suspect with the initials “MAH”, were responsible for smuggling at least 400 Rohingya. They were arrested earlier this month, a few days after their boats landed on the shores of Aceh. The U.N. states that more than 1,200 Rohingya have arrived in Indonesia since November.

Fishermen in Aceh have a tradition of saving anyone distressed at sea and bringing them ashore, to safety. But in recent weeks, the Rohingya have encountered hostility and rejection as locals say they are fed up with the increasing number of boats.

“They’ve been doing a lot of nonsense things like demanding better food and shelter. They shouldn’t have done that. They weren’t invited here anyway as they thought this is their country. And that’s inappropriate,” said Della Masrida, 20, an Indonesian student living in Aceh.

Indonesia is a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) but the regional bloc refuses to have a policy on how to assist refugees crossing by sea.

John Quinley, the director at Fortify Rights – a human rights organization advocating for the Rohingya – calls ASEAN shameful for violating international law.

“ASEAN has had a policy of pushing back boats for many years since I’ve been working on the issue for almost ten years now. They don’t allow boats to disembark. If boats do disembark, they detain refugees for indefinite periods of time. They don’t provide real, ongoing protection or access to livelihoods, work, freedom of movement for refugees,” said Quinley.

The Rohingya are fleeing persecution, in what has been labelled a genocide by the U.S. government, in Myanmar’s Arakan State. Over 150,000 stateless Rohingya live in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.

The military’s campaigns against the Rohingya have forced one million of them into Bangladesh’s refugee camps, where there are no work or educational opportunities.

“We’ve seen a total deterioration in the camps. We’ve seen the Bangladeshi authorities become much more restrictive of refugee rights. Refugees in the camps are surrounded by barbed wire fencing,” added Quinley, who travels often to Bangladesh to inspect Rohingya living conditions.

“We’ve documented how there’s ongoing arson in the camps and people trying to flee those fires. At times [they have] lost their lives or were injured because they were unable to flee because of the barbed wire fencing or checkpoints [surrounding] the camps. We’ve documented abuses from the people that are supposed to be protecting refugees, which are known as the Armed Police Battalion in Bangladesh. They’re the ones that are mandated to protect those 30-plus refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar,” stated Quinley.

In May, Cyclone Mocha made landfall in Arakan State destroying villages, towns and cities, where many Rohingya IDP camps are located. Hundreds of Rohingya were reportedly killed, although no official death toll was released as Myanmar doesn’t recognize the Rohingya as citizens.


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