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Civil society seeks humanitarian response over Rohingya crisis

Tempo - June 28, 2020

Antara, Jakarta – The Coalition of Civil Society Organizations has praised the local people and Government of North Aceh for their initiative and lead in rescuing Rohingya refugees in distress at sea on Thursday (June 25).

It is not the sole responsibility of the local government and community to extend assistance to the 99 Rohingya refugees in Punteut, Lhokseumawe, but others, especially those from the national government too should come forward in this endeavor.

The involvement and coordination of other elements, in particular, the national government, are the pressing need of the hour.

The newly arrived Rohingyas, mostly comprising vulnerable women and children, were shifted to a former immigration office building that earlier served as a temporary refugee shelter.

After being adrift at sea since June 22, they were rescued by local fishermen and brought to land following pressing calls from locals. They were taken to the shelter in the late afternoon from Lancok Village, some 15 kilometers from Lhokseumawe. As part of the COVID-19 health protocols, all underwent rapid testing for which the results came non-reactive.

It is not the first time that Rohingyas had arrived in Indonesia and their arrival numbers have shot up since the 2015 conflict in Myanmar that resulted in several of them fleeing their homes.

With the government initially reluctant to help, the local community took it upon itself to step up efforts and taken the rescue task into its own hands while abiding by the prevailing law on solidarity and helping those in distress. The Acehnese had earlier too taken the lead in supporting Rohingya refugees.

The 36th ASEAN Summit, currently underway, is expected to offer the necessary momentum for ASEAN leaders to urge Myanmar to resolve and put an end to crimes against humanity that continue unabated in the country, based on recommendations of the United Nations and the UN Security Council Resolution, as issued by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

ASEAN member states must not turn a blind eye to Rohingya refugees whose lives are at risk at sea.

ASEAN member states should prioritize the upholding of human rights, including refugee rights, so that the ASEAN Summit may serve as a summit for collaboration and dialog, not only for economic development but also for the humanitarian crises, democracy, and justice in the Southeast Asian region.

The respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights, including of refugees, are contained in numerous international conventions, particularly the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Indonesia, despite not being a party to the 1951 Convention, has ratified the Presidential Regulation No.125 of 2016 on the handling of refugees from overseas that specifically outlines the assistance and management of refugees, including the provision of shelters.

Indonesia has also ratified several international human rights instruments that should be respected and fulfilled.

Hence, the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations recommends the Indonesian government to urgently implement Presidential Regulation No. 125 of 2016 and issue technical regulations and clarifications where necessary to ensure effective coordination for the management and humane treatment of refugees.

While civil society remains committed to supporting humanitarian efforts, full implementation of the regulation is yet to be effusively achieved, especially owing to the lack of clarity and obstacles faced in government budgeting.

In addition, the coalition has encouraged the Indonesian government to immediately become a party to the 1951 Convention by accession, so that it can be more comprehensive and efficient in protecting the rights of refugees in line with the commitments outlined in the international conventions.

"Issue additional technical guidelines, including quarantine mechanisms, tests, and the implementation of physical distancing to ensure the safety and health of the community and the refugees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic," according to a statement.

The government has called on to immediately determine a more adequate shelter for the refugees since the current shelter, which is an unused immigration office, lacks several necessary facilities. The shelter built by NGOs for refugees in North Aceh has been re-used as an in-patient accommodation for COVID-19 patients. All other options should be taken into account, including the shelter facilities in Langsa.

"Provide access to inclusive, sustainable, and efficient solutions for Rohingya refugees, including for men and women to seek a livelihood while in Indonesia," the statement noted.

The coalition also sought a resolution to the prolonged abuses and denial of rights in Myanmar and engage more proactively with resettlement countries to encourage them to fulfill their commitment to the resettlement of refugees and asylum-seekers in third countries.

"Take into account important lessons from the Rohingya response in Aceh in 2015 where civil society and humanitarian organizations collaborated with the government to fill in much-needed assistance. This is in line with Indonesia's commitment to Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Compact on Refugees," the statement noted.

Source: https://en.tempo.co/read/1358729/civil-society-seeks-humanitarian-response-over-rohingya-crisis