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Indonesia: Where have our Rohingya gone?

By Ainur Rohmah
October 17, 2015

Solidarity group says over half of refugees confined in one shelter have escaped, suspected of attempting passage to Malaysia

JAKARTA -- More than a hundred Muslim Rohingya granted refugee status in Indonesia appear to have escaped the shelters they have been rehomed in, in an effort to get to Malaysia, a local rights group said Friday.

A National Committee for Rohingya Solidarity spokesman told Anadolu Agency that of the 316 Rohingya confined to just one shelter in Blang Adoe in the country's northwest, 166 had left within the last three months, likely in pursuit of new lives in Malaysia.

"Around 80 refugees escaped in just two weeks [alone]," Zainal Bakri said, blaming loose security at the camp.

The 316 were from a group of around 1,000 Rohingya who arrived on the western island of Aceh at the tail end of the Southeast Asian boat people crisis in May.

Indonesia agreed to accommodate those given refugee status in temporary shelters on condition that they are resettled in third countries or repatriated within one year.

On Friday, North Aceh Regency spokesman Amir Hamzah told Anadolu Agency that the local government would tighten security in the shelters.

"On Thursday, we checked and there were only 150 Rohingya left," he said.

Hamzah claimed that many of those who had left had done so at the invitation of human traffickers, who sneak into the shelters by claiming they are related to those inside.

Once in the shelter, he said the traffickers sell the Rohingya the idea of travelling to Malaysia to stay with family members and find work.

"From when they arrived, we [always] knew that their goal was to get to Malaysia," Hamzah said. "There are a lot of [other Rohingya] families there."

If proven, the suspected move would make a mockery of the "refugee" status of those who have left, as it suggests that their reason for moving is economic, rather than persecution.

Rohingya have been subject to persecution and even death in Myanmar, which some rights groups have claimed is state-sponsored. 

The Rohingya initially arrived on boats with Bangladeshis, almost all of who are understood to have been repatriated as the Indonesia government sees their reason as economic.

One of the 150 Rohingya who still remain in the shelter told on Friday that many of those who had left had done so for financial reasons.

"A lot of my friends have run away because they need money to send back to their families in Myanmar," Sahidullah said.

The 22-year-old added that even though he has a brother working in Malaysia, he was staying in the hope the Indonesian government would provide them with jobs.

In late September, four Rohingya women claimed locals had sexually abused them after they were caught outside of the camp with two men and three children.

A local police chief later announced that the women had fabricated the incident, and had been escaping in an effort to get to Malaysia.

On Friday, Bakri rejected the idea that the refugees were leaving in fear.

They break out of the shelters "not because [they are afraid] after the rapes, but because they want to go to Malaysia," he said.

Local police chief Anang Tri Harsono later underlined to Anadolu Agency that although the Rohingya were confined to the centers, they would not be charged with absconding as they were not actual prisoners.

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