Dandy Koswaraputra (BenarNews) – Rohingya refugees living in Indonesia say they are growing more and more desperate as they struggle to get by in the face of an uncertain future, with the prospect of relocation to a third country increasingly remote.
Muhammad Hanif, a Rohingya from Maungdaw township in Myanmar's Rakhine state, tried to reach Australia from Malaysia by boat in 2013, but got stranded in Indonesia where refugees are not allowed to work or attend formal schools. Hanif said he sometimes thought about committing suicide, but support from his parents and religious teachers kept him alive.
"They keep telling me it's a test from God. But this is so heavy that sometimes it's unbearable," Hanif, a 46-year-old father of three, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated news service, at a mosque near his home just southwest of Jakarta.
As Rohingya worldwide this week marked the fifth anniversary of a brutal Burmese military offensive that drove 740,000 of their people from Rakhine state across the border into Bangladesh, the prospect of being repatriated to their homeland any time soon has dimmed since the junta seized power in a coup last year. At the same time, stateless Rohingya like Hanif in Indonesia face slim chances of being resettled in third countries.
Hanif said his family fled from Myanmar to Malaysia in 1982, long before the crackdown, after his father was attacked by what he described as thugs who demanded that he surrender the family's land.
"My father did not give in and fought back," he said. "My father was tortured, and his land was confiscated by Buddhist thugs."
His family receives 4 million rupiah (U.S. $270) per month from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency. "The money is not enough," Hanif said.
"Before COVID-19, Indonesian neighbors were very kind. When they knew we didn't have enough, they gave us food. After COVID-19, they have been struggling themselves."
Hanif said he wanted to move to the United States for a better life and to be reunited with relatives who live there.
Since the 2017 crackdown in Myanmar, Rohingya have paid traffickers to transport them to Thailand and Malaysia where they hope to find work away from Myanmar or the crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.
More than 600 Rohingya have ended up stranded in Indonesia on their way to third countries, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, adding that third countries are taking in few refugees, whether they are Rohingya or refugees from other countries.
Indonesia is not a party to the U.N.'s 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, so it is not required to follow protocols related to jobs and education.
In a statement in December 2021, UNHCR acknowledged frustrations expressed by the Rohingya and explained the resettlement process as well as its limitations, "stressing that resettlement can only be offered to a very limited number of vulnerable refugees, given the low number of places available worldwide."
Over the last five years, about 2,700 refugees – including 46 percent who are from Afghanistan – have departed Indonesia, the statement said.
Mitra Suryono, the UNHCR spokeswoman in Indonesia, said 20 countries most likely to receive refugees could accept less than 1.5 percent of the 26 million refugees of all backgrounds worldwide. The refugee agency did not comment on Hanif's resettlement status.
Forced to borrow
Abu Sayyid, 34, another Rohingya who lives near Hanif, said the IOM aid money often did not last a month, so he was forced to borrow from neighbors. "They don't always lend us money. As an adult I can stand it, but the children can't," said Sayyid, who also has three children.
Sayyid said he hoped President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo would raise the issue of Rohingya at the G20 summit in Bali in November. "Among Asian countries – Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Indonesia – Indonesia is the most supportive," he said.
Atika Yuanita, head of the Indonesian Civil Society Association for Refugee Rights Protection (SUAKA), said the Rohingya were in dire need of financial support, housing and access to education."Our goal is at least for the government to establish legislation in Indonesia to fulfil the rights of asylum seekers and refugees," she told BenarNews.
Siti Ruhaini Dzuhayatin, a member of the Presidential Staff Office, did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment.
On Thursday, Marzuki Darusman, who heads the U.N.'s international fact-finding team on Myanmar, said justice remained elusive for Rohingya five years after the violent crackdown.
"Things like what happened to the Rohingya also happened to other ethnic groups in Myanmar, strengthening findings that ... the Tatmadaw is the source of violence in Myanmar," Marzuki told an online discussion, referring to the Burmese military.
Marzuki also proposed that Aug. 25 be designated as Rohingya Day to commemorate the violence "so that the Rohingya will feel that their identity is recognized."
Meanwhile, Yuyun Wahyuningrum, an Indonesian representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, urged the Southeast Asian bloc to come up with "durable solutions" to the Rohingya refugee crisis.
"They remain stateless and live in limbo, lack refugee status, are dependent on humanitarian aid, are unable to fully exercise their rights, often live in fear and with the threat of arrest, detention, deportation, and lack access to health, education, livelihoods, formal jobs or longer-term durable solutions," she said in a statement on Friday.
"Those attempting sea journeys are at the mercy of traffickers and at risk of bonded labor. However, the region still has no specific mechanism in place to ensure equitable and predictable disembarkation of refugees and migrants in distress at sea," she said.
[BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.]