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Indonesia faces dilemma on Rohingya refugees

Jakarta Globe - January 6, 2024

Jayanty Nada Shofa, Jakarta – Indonesia is still facing a great dilemma on the Rohingya – the Muslim minority group who have fled their homes in the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar to escape violence.

Over the past months, boats carrying Rohingya refugees have landed on the shores of Aceh, the westernmost province of the Muslim-majority Indonesia. The influx of refugees, which can reach over a hundred people on each arrival, has faced local protests. The residents used to be more welcoming of the refugees, but resentment grew following more arrivals. A large crowd of university students not long ago stormed a shelter in Banda Aceh, demanding that the refugees get deported. The protests sparked concerns among humanitarian organizations.

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said on Dec. 8 that Indonesia would provide temporary humanitarian assistance while prioritizing the needs of the local communities. Jokowi alleged a human trafficking network had brought in the Rohingya refugees into Indonesia. About 10 days later, the Banda Aceh police named a Rohingya man Muhammad Amin (MA) as a people smuggling suspect. State-run news agency Antara reported that a refugee would have to pay up to 120,000 taka (approximately $1,093) to leave the crowded camps in the Bangladeshi town of Cox's Bazar to Indonesia.

However, Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. The archipelagic country bears no legal obligation to accommodate refugees.

"Indonesia does not have an obligation to accept the refugees, let alone give a permanent solution for refugees. We are only accepting the refugees solely because of humanitarian reasons. Ironically, countries that signed the convention are closing their doors, and even pushing those refugees back," Foreign Ministry's spokesman Lalu Muhammad Iqbal told reporters via text on Nov. 16, 2023.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi last month also discussed the Rohingya situation with Filippo Grandi, who heads the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.

"I told UNHCR to urge countries that are party to the convention to start accepting resettlement immediately. So the burden does not get shifted to other countries like Indonesia," Retno was quoted in a press statement not long after meeting Grandi.

Indonesia cannot do it alone

According to the Aceh chapter of the Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras), some 194 Rohingya refugees arrived in Aceh on Nov. 14, 2023. Since then, the number has grown to a total of over 1,600 as of mid-December.

In 2016, President Jokowi inked a presidential regulation on foreign refugees. Article 2 states that the central government works alongside the UNHCR, and/or international organizations in dealing with the refugees.

"The regulation states that the [refugee handling] is the responsibility of the central government and international organizations. Even so, it is impossible for Indonesia to do it alone. ASEAN must step in, and share the responsibility, resources, and burden. This is a regional issue. There are Rohingya refugees in Thailand and Malaysia," Kontras Aceh coordinator Azharul Husna told the Jakarta Globe by phone on Friday night.

Azharul added that ASEAN should discuss the Rohingya refugee matter at its upcoming summits.

The UNHCR recorded 12,097 refugees in Indonesia as of July 2023. About 6,572 people came from Afghanistan. According to a separate UNHCR report, Thailand is hosting 90,801 Myanmar refugees across 9 temporary shelters. As of end-November 2023, there are 107,520 Rohingya refugees registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia. Neither Thailand nor Malaysia are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Source: https://jakartaglobe.id/news/indonesia-faces-dilemma-on-rohingya-refugee