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Rohingya mark Eid in Indonesia limbo after treacherous sea voyage

Jakarta Post - April 11, 2024

Meulaboh, Indonesia – At a damaged temporary shelter in western Indonesia, Rohingya men slick their hair with gel while women apply make-up and colourful hijabs to look the part for prayers at the start of Eid-al-Fitr festivities.

But the group of refugees are spending the end of Ramadan celebrations away from their families after surviving a dangerous sea journey from squalid Bangladesh camps for an uncertain future in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation.

At least 75 refugees are staying at a local official's office in ultra-conservative Aceh province where many of the persecuted Myanmar minority land every year.

Most of them survived their rickety boat capsizing last month and being stranded on its rusty hull for more than a day.

Men, women and children unfolded mats by tent shelters for a sombre morning prayer at the start of the Muslim holiday, with some mothers drawing henna tattoos on the hands of their young daughters.

As a preacher began to sing the notes of the morning prayer in front of makeshift tents, tears rolled down the faces of Rohingya men who stared at the floor with their arms crossed.

"Here, we have no siblings. My family is not here, that's why I cried," said Mohammad Rizwan, 35.

"Some also cried earlier because their mother, father, or siblings died due to the boat capsizing. One friend of mine lost six or seven family members."

The mostly Muslim ethnic Rohingya are heavily persecuted in Myanmar, and thousands risk their lives each year on long and expensive sea journeys to try to reach Malaysia or Indonesia.

From mid-November to late January, more than 1,700 Rohingya refugees landed on Indonesian shores, according to the UN refugee agency.

'Want to go'

The Rohingya men are sleeping on mats on a crumbling floor strewn with trash inside the shelter building, after being relocated from an old Red Cross facility due to local anger.

But some are still trying to make the best out of a bad situation.

"In our hometown, there's a celebration for Eid. There were mothers, fathers, siblings, relatives. Now, even here, I still feel happiness, despite the disaster at sea," said Dostgior, who goes by one name. He added that he was thankful for the "feasting and chatting" with fellow survivors.

"If God willed it, I might have died at sea. But my fate is good, so I am alive."

Others were praying to carry on their journeys to another country, with Indonesia not giving them permanent stay and Aceh locals holding protests against their presence in recent months.

"The people of Indonesia have helped us a lot with food and clothes. They show their humanity to us," said Zlabul Hoque, 33.

"Eid is knocking [on] the door. I don't know where they take us after Eid. We want to go to Malaysia."

'We are silent'

Aid agencies have appealed to Jakarta to accept more, but Indonesia is not a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention and says it is not compelled to take in refugees from Myanmar.

As the prayers ended, the men stood up from their mats, wiped their faces. The mic'd-up preacher also began to cry.

The men hugged each other, wailing out loud with grief as they remembered the relatives lost on the treacherous ocean journey.

After praying behind the men, the women returned to their tent, holding one another and weeping in unison. One cried so hysterically that she had to be helped back to one of the shelter tents.

"We do not understand any language here. We don't know anything yet. So we are silent, we can't even go anywhere," said 17-year-old Dilkayas.

"What else will we do during Eid? We don't have a home here."

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/indonesia/2024/04/11/rohingya-mark-eid-in-indonesia-limbo-after-treacherous-sea-voyage.htm