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Documentary reveals Acehnese kindness toward Rohingya refugees

No direction home: After international pressure, Indonesia and Malaysia are accommodating Rohingya boat people until a more permanent solution can be found. (Kompas)

December 14, 2015

To raise awareness of the refugee crisis in the region, a group of students of Singapore's well known university has made a documentary on the Rohingya refugees in Aceh and how the Acehnese welcomed the strangers to their land.

The students, from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, entitled their documentay Peumulia Jamee, which means 'Honoring Guests' in Acehnese. It looks at how the oppressed Rohingya Muslims found a place of refuge in Aceh. The documentary, which served as the students' final year project, also highlighted the unlikely friendships that sprang up between the Rohingyas and the Acehnese as the refugees settled in Indonesia's westernmost province.

The communications studies students who worked on the documentary are Goh Chiew Tong as director, Jade Han Hui Jing as producer and Clarissa Sih as social media manager. They represent the Snapback Pictures team. They started their project on Dec. 5 when they arrived in Aceh.

“Set in Aceh, Peumulia Jamee will not only uncover the hardship and uncertainty of the Rohingya Muslims, but will also shed light on the love the Acehnese have showered on these strangers who are aliens in their homeland,” Han said in a press statement sent to on Monday.

“Unlike other Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia or Thailand, the people of Aceh welcomed the refugee boats with open arms instead of turning them away.”

Director Goh said that the documentary wanted to offer a fresh perspective to the ongoing crisis by taking a human interest angle.

The team was inspired by how the Acehnese applied the peumulia jamee tradition of honoring their guests, even when they did not know the race, religion or physical conditions of the Rohingya.

In making the documentary, Snapback spoke to the Rohingya and different stakeholders at various refugee camps in Aceh, like the Kuala Langsa and Lhok Bani camps in Langsa, the Bayeun camp in East Aceh and the Blang Adoe camp in North Aceh.

The team hoped to understand the struggles of the Rohingya through their attempts to flee their own country to look for better prospects.

Snapback also looked at the willingness of the Acehnese fishermen to rescue the Rohingya refugees when they were stranded at sea. The documentary highlights the challenges faced by the local community as they provided a safe shelter for the refugees.

Goh said that the the team wants the 24-minute documentary to create a movement in which more people across Southeast Asia get a heightened awareness and knowledge of the refugee crisis.

“It is our ultimate wish that they will take concrete action in providing aid for the Rohingya Muslims, who are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world," Goh said.

Snapback Pictures collaborated with Aceh-based non governmental organization Geutanyoe Foundation, which focuses on humanitarian issues.

The foundation had been providing support to waves of Rohingyas since 2013 as they sought refuge from their homeland in Myanmar following the persecutions of and discrimination against of the minority group. The Rohingyas had fled the country to go overseas and some were washed ashore in Indonesia.

Local media reported that there were hundreds of Rohingya refugees settled in temporary shelters in Aceh.

The Geutanyoe Foundation's main focus is to help the refugees improve their living conditions and create social and livelihood programs in their camps in Aceh. The foundation also works with the Rohingya in Myanmar and advocates regionally for an ASEAN refugee policy.

Geutanyoe Foundation international director Lilianne Fan first spoke of the condition of the Rohingya refugees in Aceh at the Temasek Foundation Asia Journalism Forum on Reporting Migration in August 2015, which attracted the team's interest in covering the Rohingya refugee crisis.

“The Geutanyoe Foundation has been working with the fishermen who saved the stranded refugees and migrants and the Rohingya refugees since day one of their arrival in Aceh. We saw how the Acehnese used their traditions to rescue and welcome refugees and have been promoting this incredible local humanitarianism worldwide,” Fan said in the statement.

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