Reject refugees: Protest in Indonesia over growing numbers of Rohingya

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Students in Indonesia’s Aceh province rallied on Wednesday demanding the government drive away Rohingya refugees arriving by boat in growing numbers as police named more suspects of human trafficking.

Rohingya refugees enter the compounds of a government building after demonstrating university students forced them to relocate from a previous government facility, in Banda Aceh.(AFP)
Rohingya refugees enter the compounds of a government building after demonstrating university students forced them to relocate from a previous government facility, in Banda Aceh.(AFP)

Over 1,500 Rohingya, who fled violent attacks in Myanmar and now are leaving camps in neighbouring Bangladesh in search of better lives, have arrived in Aceh off the tip of Sumatra since November. They have faced some hostility from fellow Muslims in Aceh.

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About 200 students protested in front of the provincial parliament in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, to call on lawmakers to reject Rohingya refugees, saying their presence would bring social and economic upheaval in the community.

The protesters chanted “Get out Rohingya!” and criticised the government and the UN refugee agency for failing to manage the refugee arrivals. Some protesters burned tires on the street.

“We urged the parliament speaker to immediately take a firm action to remove all Rohingya refugees from Aceh,” said Teuku Wariza, a protest organiser.

The protesters marched to a local community hall in Banda Aceh, where about 135 Rohingya were taking shelter. The demonstrators threw out clothes and household items belonging to the refugees, forcing authorities to relocate them to another shelter.

Indonesia had once tolerated the refugees while Thailand and Malaysia pushed them away. But the growing hostility of some Indonesians toward the Rohingya has put pressure on President Joko Widodo’s government to take action.

Widodo earlier this month said the government suspected a surge in human trafficking for the increase in Rohingya arrivals.

Police in Banda Aceh on Wednesday named two more suspected human smugglers from Bangladesh and Myanmar following the arrival of one boat of refugees on Dec 10. One of them, the captain, himself a refugee, was charged with trafficking.

“This is not an easy issue, this is an issue with enormous challenges,” Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters. “The UNHCR has reiterated his commitment to continue to assist the Indonesian government in addressing this situation.”

About 740,000 Rohingya were resettled in Bangladesh after fleeing their homes in 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 Rohingya are largely denied citizenship rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and face widespread social discrimination.

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