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Activists suspect social media campaign behind rejection of Rohingya refugees

CNN Indonesia - December 29, 2023

Jakarta – Civil society activists from a cross-section of organisations suspect that there is a major effort on social media to spread disinformation or false narratives in order to trigger opposition to Rohingya refugees in Indonesia's northern-most province of Aceh.

This was conveyed at an online media briefing titled "Responding to the Current Situation & Conditions of the Rejection of Rohingya Refugees in Aceh" on Thursday December 28.

A number of representatives from civil society organisations were present including the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), SUAKA (Asylum), Asian Justice and Rights (AJAR), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Forum-ASIA and the Indonesian Independent Journalists Association (AJI).

Kontras Aceh Working Division Coordinator Azharul Husna said that they suspect there were negative postings and disinformation on social media that went viral which led to the opposition by Acehnese residents to the arrival of the Rohingya refugees.

"We believe that what actually triggered the conflict included negative remarks and disinformation on social media against the Rohingya refugee", said Husna.

He then reinforced the argument by referring to events on the ground and the reasons given by students who demonstrated against the refugees when asked what their motives were for participating in the action.

"This is tested by statement from some of students who participated in the demonstration. So when asked 'Why for example take part in the demonstration?' Their reasons for disliking the Rohingya refugees were not able to be answered with certainly. And, what was conveyed was similar the information on social media", said Husna.

President University academic Nino Viartasiswi sees that there has been an effort to "sow fear" or fear mongering against the Rohingya refugees in Indonesia.

"There is an effort at fear mongering, and it is this fear mongering that is creating fears. First by demonising refugees, particularly Rohingya people", said Viartasiswi.

Viartasiswi said that these fear mongering efforts have changed the approach towards refuges which should be non-security or humanitarian, to become a security issue.

Aceh Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) project coordinator Hendra Saputra also highlighted other arguments by opponents such as the issue of using up the regional budget (APBD), which it is feared will be absorbed to take care of refugees while other poor people still need help.

"Initially the issue that emerged so that residents rejected them was that we still have many poor people, 'So that the APBA (Aceh budget) or the regional budge should not be absorbed by the issue of handling refugees'", said Saputra.

According to Saputra this was refuted by a statement issued by an Acehnese public official who stated that none of the regional budget was being used to for the refugees.

UNHCR speaks out

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Indonesia representative Mitra Suryono stressed that the cost of handling international refugees in Indonesia is not necessarily delegated to the government.

The financing, he said, is fully borne by the UNHCR as the UN organisation that handles international refugees.

"I also want to emphasise once again that the arrival of refugees and the fulfillment of their needs does not burden Indonesia or the government', said Suryono.

Nevertheless, he did not rule out possibility of accepting help from parties who wanted to provide assistance. He also reiterated that the arrival of Rohingya refugees was motivated by the persecution they have suffered either in Myanmar or Bangladesh.

According to Suryono the number of Rohingya refugees in Indonesia is not that high if compared with other countries.

Several other countries are also bearing the same burden such as Bangladesh which accommodates around 1 million refugees, India which accommodates around 22,000 refugees and Malaysia which accommodates around 105,000 refugees.

"In total the number of Rohingya refugees in Indonesia based on previous arrivals may be around 2,000 people but this number is not a very large number if we compare it to other countries", he continued.

He also alluded to Indonesia's role in handling international refugees despite not being a country that accepts asylum seekers.

"This is where Indonesia plays the role of sharing responsibility in terms of handling or providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in the Southeast Asian region", he said.

The wave of Rohingya refugee arrivals by ship began again in Aceh in November. A number of residents and protest actions have since opposed the arrival of the Rohingya immigrants.

One of these was an action by a student group who evicted Rohingya refugees from their place of temporary accommodation at the Balee Meuseuraya Aceh (BMA) building. Prior to this, there was also opposition to the refugees in Sabang and Pidie, northern Aceh. (sym/kid)

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Aktivis Sipil Curiga Upaya Disinformasi di Balik Aksi Tolak Rohingya".]

Source: https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20231229152456-20-1043208/aktivis-sipil-curiga-upaya-disinformasi-di-balik-aksi-tolak-rohingy