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Rohingya refugees remain in limbo as search continues for taker

Jakarta Globe - July 25, 2009

Ismira Lutfia – There is still no light at the end of the tunnel for Rohingya refugees now being housed in Aceh, as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is still looking for a third country willing to accept them, a Foreign Ministry official said on Friday.

"We're aware that the UNHCR is still trying to find a third country and we know that's not easy," ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said.

UNHCR spokeswoman Anita Restu said the agency was trying to identify a third country. "But other countries will have the final say about whether to accept them," she said.

There are 11 designated countries for refugee resettlement, but their acceptance will depend on their annual refugee quotas, she said.

Faizasyah said that the government had encountered "technical problems" in its efforts to deal with the refugees, who arrived in Aceh in January. The refugees were reportedly attempting to reach Australia but were stranded in the Malacca Strait after their boat broke down.

"We've had problems moving them to the immigration detention center," Faizasyah said, adding that repatriation was an option for those who were willing to return home.

He said the ministry had held talks with the Bangladeshi government about possibly accepting the refugees. "Only one problem remains – consular access," Faizasyah said.

He said the ministry was aware that some of the Rohingyas had fled their accommodations in East Aceh district.

"We've met with the East Aceh administration and we've explained to them the problems we are facing and they understand," Faizasyah said.

Policies aimed at finding solutions to these problems have led to the establishment of an immigration task force, he said.

The ad hoc working groups set up under the Bali Process forum, which was jointly chaired by Indonesia and Australia in April to address the plight of the Rohingyas, will hold their first meetings in Bali between Monday and Wednesday, Faizasyah added.

He said that 13 countries and five international organizations had confirmed that they would attend the meetings to discuss a wide range of issues related to refugees.

Faizasyah said the meetings would include presentations by all countries that have been affected by the arrival of refugees. Other discussions will focus on each country's understanding of the issues affecting refugees.

The meetings will also focus on ways to reduce the pressure on origin, transit and destination countries.

Officials at the meetings will share information about a range of issues affecting refugees.

"Every country will present their situation and will share information on how they process and handle incoming refugees from other countries," Faizasyah said.