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As more Rohingya arrive by boat, Indonesia asks the international community to share its burden

Associated Press - December 12, 2023

Edna Tarigan and Reza Saifullah, Banda Aceh, Indonesia – Indonesia said Tuesday it is appealing to the international community for help after more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees have arrived on its shores by boat since November.

Indonesia once tolerated such landings while Thailand and Malaysia pushed them away. But the growing hostility of some Indonesians toward the Rohingya, who come from refugee camps in Bangladesh, has put pressure on President Joko Widodo's government to take action.

"We see that the handling of the refugee problem, especially the resettlement issue, has been very slow so far," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Muhammad Iqbal told a news conference in the capital, Jakarta. He urged the international community to "show more responsibility in efforts to resolve the Rohingya refugee problem."

Indonesia, like Thailand and Malaysia, is not a signatory to the U.N.'s 1951 Refugee Convention outlining their legal protections, so is not obligated to accept them. In the past, all have provided at least temporary shelter to refugees in distress.

Widodo on Monday said the Indonesian government will still help the refugees temporarily.

"We are still talking to international organizations, such as UNHCR (U.N. refugee agency)... since the locals don't accept them," the president told reporters.

About 740,000 Rohingya were resettled in Bangladesh after fleeing their homes in neighboring Myanmar to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign carried out in 2017 by security forces. Accusations of mass rape, murder and the burning of entire villages are well documented, and international courts are considering whether Myanmar authorities committed genocide and other grave human rights abuses.

Efforts to repatriate the Rohingya have failed because of doubts their safety can be assured. The Muslim Rohingya are largely denied citizenship rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and face widespread social discrimination.

Most of the refugees leaving by sea attempt to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia in search of work.

In Indonesia, Muslims comprise nearly 90% of the country's 277 million people. But this year, there has been an upsurge of anti-Rohingya sentiment, especially in Aceh, on the northern part of the island of Sumatra, where most end up landing.

Residents accuse the Rohingya of poor behavior and creating a burden, and in some cases have pushed their boats away. After 300 Rohingya on two boats landed in Aceh over the weekend, disgruntled residents took some on trucks to the offices of the provincial governor to urge authorities to take them away.

There is concern the number of Rohingya making the dangerous sea voyage may increase in the next few months as life in refugee camps becomes harder due to cuts in food rations and a spike in gang violence.

Ann Maymann, a UNHCR official in Aceh, said too many of the arriving Rohingya are held in "unsuitable sites." She told The Associated Press they are working with partners on providing humanitarian assistance.

She questioned the extent of hostility toward the Rohingya, which has been fanned on social media. She said she also had seen acceptance and understanding among Indonesians of the Rohingya's plight.

"They give them clothes, they give them food. They want to help," Maymann said.

At the same time, she conceded that some hostility has been directed at UNHCR and other aid agencies helping the Rohingya. She acknowledged that some UNHCR personnel in Aceh don't wear identifying logos because it might stir up trouble that would disrupt their work.

[Tarigan reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. Associated Press writers Grant Peck in Bangkok and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Australia, contributed to this report.]

Source: https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/rohingya-arrive-boat-indonesia-asks-international-community-share-10557964