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Indonesian Church group slams anti-Rohingya campaign

UCA News - January 6, 2024

Catholic charity Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has joined other groups to deplore the ongoing smear campaign on social media sites vilifying Rohingya refugees in Indonesia.

A series of anti-Rohingya posts on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and X, formerly Twitter, prompted the Indonesian government and media outlets to publish fact-checked articles over the past few days.

At least 10 articles dispelling misconceptions and hoaxes about the Muslim minority group have been published on the website run by the Ministry of Communication and Information and the Indonesian Anti-Defamation Society (MAFINDO).

In an article dated Jan. 4, the ministry dismissed an Instagram post that alleged "Rohingya refugees were deliberately sent to Indonesia so that Indonesia's attention would be diverted from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Other articles refuted various allegations such as Rohingya demanding land rights from Malaysia, Rohingya refugees being listed as voters in the 2024 elections, and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Indonesia pressing the government to give Rohingya houses, food and identity cards.

The anti-Rohingya campaign started after hundreds of the persecuted minority arrived in the western part of Indonesia via risky sea voyages on rickety boats reportedly to escape miseries in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

At least 1,800 Rohingya refugees are now in Indonesia, media reports say.

The new arrival is the largest since the 2015 Asian boat people crisis that saw thousands of hungry and sick Rohingya and Bangladeshi people left adrift in the sea in abandoned traffickers' boats.

The systematic campaign with narratives and hoaxes on social media triggering rejection and hatred against Rohingya refugees is unprecedented, said Gading Gumilang Putra, senior legal services officer of the JRS said in a statement.

"Because of negative narratives circulating on social media, demonstrations and roadblocks occurred. Some refugees were stuck on the beach, and some were taken from one area to another," he said.

He added that news on social media had a direct impact on humanitarian agencies and refugees, as well as citizens becoming divided because of hoaxes.

Septiaji Eko Nugroho, chairman of MAFINDO, said that the various hate narratives circulating were "demonization" or an attempt to shape the Rohingya as something evil, worthy of insult and blame.

He said that people's ignorance about something is one of the entry points for disinformation.

Incitement to hatred due to hoaxes and disinformation is widespread because it arouses the emotions of citizens who do not know "that the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted groups on earth," he added.

The latest arrival of Rohingya refugees was recorded on Dec. 30.

Some 157 Rohingya including 49 men, 32 women and 76 children landed in Karang Gading Village, Deli Serdang Regency, North Sumatra province, according to the UNHCR.

The local military commander Mochammad Hasan called the arrival to North Sumatra a "new pattern" because previously they only came to Aceh or Sabang on the western tip of Indonesia.

UNHCR Representative for Indonesia Ann Maymann told reporters that the arrival of Rohingya refugees was triggered by the bad situation they faced in refugee camps in Cox's Bazar of Bangladesh, so it was hoped that the Indonesian government and local community would be willing to help the refugees.

Muhammad Said, 24, one of the Rohingya refugees who landed in Deli Serdang Regency, told BBC News that it took 22 days on the ship that sailed from Bangladesh to Indonesia.

Before anchoring on the coast of Deli Serdang, the ship drifted for five days in Indonesian waters.

He said that the purpose of his coming to Indonesia was for the security and safety of himself and his family "because we are not safe in Bangladesh."

Basarin Yunus Tanjung, an official in North Sumatra Province, said they would only temporarily handle the refugees until Jan. 14, "then we will decide what to do further."

On Dec. 27, a group of students forced 137 refugees, mostly women and children, onto trucks to another location from Banda Aceh, the capital city of Aceh province.

The students were allegedly angered by an organized disinformation campaign that Rohingya refugees were taking their food and land, as well as indulging in sexual harassment and other bad behavior.

Hendra Saputra, JRS project coordinator in Aceh said all these allegations were false and groundless.

Source: https://www.ucanews.com/news/indonesian-church-group-slams-anti-rohingya-campaign/10373