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Qatar aid for Rohingya refugees still to dock in Indonesia

A Bangladesh Rohingya after being rescued from a sinking boat carrying 712 refugees. Picture: Ed Wray. Source: Supplied

By Peter Alford
October 10, 2015

More than four months since Qatar promised Indonesia $US50 million ($68m) to help with its share of the Rohingya refugee burden, no money has arrived.

Jakarta -- The UN refugee agency has done marginally better appealing for funds to deal with immediate consequences of the Bay of Bengal boat people crisis in May. It has raised 45 per cent of its $US13m target, mostly from governments, including Australia’s $1m.

But the region’s refugee emergency, one that engrossed world news for a month, has been expunged from most minds by the vaster trouble spilling out of Syria.

Only five months ago the stream of Rohingya asylum-seekers from Myanmar and Bengali migrant workers from Bangladesh, often travelling in the same boats, reached crisis point when people-smugglers abandoned at least 5000 of them at sea.

More than 70 people are known to have died on the boats and 1000 still are unaccounted for, according to a UNHCR report.

More than 2000 Rohingyas ­remain in camps in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in generally miserable conditions. The Bangladesh government repatriated most of its travellers.

Any week now the crisis might resume — almost certainly some boat will come — because the Bay of Bengal and Andaman monsoons have subsided.

UNHCR’s regional headquarters in Bangkok is “acquiring” satellite images of jumping-off and landing points along the Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thai and Malaysian coasts for evidence of renewed smuggling.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry says the $US50m offered by Qatar’s emir at the height of the emergency is still being discussed, most recently by the two foreign ministers in New York for the UN General Assembly.

Indonesian government spokes­man Arrmanatha Nasir said the governments had agreed to further talks on “technical aspects” because the aid should help not only with Rohingyas stranded in Aceh province but also at home in Rakhine state, where they are persecuted and stateless.

Qatar’s embassy in Jakarta has not responded to questions from The Weekend Australian.

Jakarta still hopes to resettle more than 800 Rohingyas who arrived in May to third countries within a year, Mr Arrmanatha said. “But it has become more difficult — countries that traditionally become the resettlement countries, European countries, at this moment are taking refugees from the Middle East.”

The May crisis was triggered by Thailand’s crackdown on people-smuggling and extortion racketeers, rupturing the pipeline for black-market labour and refugees.

Since then more than 200 graves have been found near smuggling camps either side the Thai-Malaysia border, evidence of the traffickers’ brutal extortions from their helpless “clients”.

The extent to which the traffic resumes as seas become calm probably depends on how well Bangkok has broken the criminal networks operating from Thailand into Malaysia. However in the interim, few if any of the problems of landing boat people safely — after Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian navies caused outrage abroad by initially “bouncing” the boats out of their territories — and the root causes of the migrations, have been addressed.

A May 29 emergency conference in Bangkok of concerned governments, including Australia’s, and international refugee and crime agencies produced 17 agreed proposals, most repeated by a July Association of Southeast Asian Nations ministerial conference in Kuala Lumpur. “Implementation of most of the proposals and recommendations has yet to begin, including the ­establishment of a joint task force or other mechanism necessary to drive the ­proposals and recommendations for­ward,” the UN report notes.

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