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Rohingya in Indonesia camps concerned over status, jobs

ACEH, INDONESIA - MARCH 24: Rohingya refugees are seen at their shelter in Bayeun, Aceh, Indonesia on 24 March, 2016. Data issued by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 956 Rohingya were rescued by Aceh fishermen on May 2015 after they were adrift in oceans. (Junaidi Hanafiah - Anadolu Agency)

By Ainur Rohmah
May 31, 2016

Hundreds have fled shelters since Indonesia offered temporary shelter during boat people crisis a year ago

TUBAN, Indonesia -- One year after Indonesia offered temporary shelter for hundreds of Muslim Rohingya, those who remain in camps are seeking employment and clarity regarding their status.

Hundreds of refugees have even fled northern Aceh province in hopes of reaching Malaysia and meeting relatives and acquiring jobs in the neighboring country, the chief of the National Committee for Rohingya Solidarity (KNSR) said Monday.

Mustafa Tiba told Anadolu Agency that Rohingya “hope there is work to support their families who still live in Myanmar."

He said most of the refugees in Aceh instead spend their days at camps attending classes, farming and taking care of livestock, as few of them have employment.

In May 2015, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were stranded at sea after Thailand launched an anti-trafficking crackdown after discovering the bodies of dozens of migrants near its border with Malaysia.

After initially turning back boatloads of migrants, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to take Rohingya in for one year, accommodating those deemed to be refugees on the condition that the international community then resettle them.

Data from KNSR shows that only around 320 refugees remain in shelters in Aceh, down from 1,000 a year ago.

Tiba said that of those still in the province, “some even worked as vendors and then in the afternoon, they return again to the refugee camp."

He underlined that those who ran away from Aceh did so “because from the beginning, their goal was not to arrive in Aceh."

The volunteer group’s chief stressed the need for Indonesia’s government to create a space in which local agencies can participate in helping Rohingya fulfill their needs.

He criticized regulations stating that only immigration authorities, such as those from the United Nations’ refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration, are authorized to assist in immigration matters.

Some of the refugees at Aceh shelters marked the one-year anniversary of their arrival in Indonesia in the middle of this month by writing of their concerns to a number of UN agencies, international bodies and Indonesia’s president. reported that they conveyed their anxieties about the approaching deadline given by Indonesia’s government for their resettlement in third countries.

Suriyatno, a representative of a government task force working with the Rohingya, was quoted as saying, “these letters contain a request that state leaders including President Joko Widodo provide clarity on their fate and their future."

Some of the refugees accommodated in Langsa city requested that the government allow them to remain in Aceh longer, citing the hospitable treatment the locals had shown them.

They also expressed gratitude for the major changes experienced by their children, who could attend school alongside Indonesian peers, due to the support of local governments and humanitarian organizations.

Many Rohingya have for years been fleeing Myanmar by sea to escape alleged persecution from both the authorities and extremist Buddhists. In the process, many have fallen prey to human traffickers.

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