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US, UN begin Rohingya resettlement process

Myanmar and Bangladeshi Rohingya migrants rescued by local Indonesian fisherman arrive in Kuala Langsa, East Aceh, Indonesia, on May 15, 2015. Photo by Hotli Simanjuntak/EPA

By Apriadi Gunawan
The Jakarta Post
December 7, 2016

The United Nations body and the United States representatives in Indonesia have interviewed Rohingya people who had been harbored in Aceh, fleeing persecution in their home country, as the beginning of a resettlement process to the US. 

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims have escaped Myanmar following longtime state-sponsored persecution in the hope of reaching Australia, but many were stranded in Aceh and Medan, as well as Malaysia and Thailand, as their boats crashed before reaching their desired destination. 

The biggest flow of refugees occurred two years ago when hundreds washed ashore on the coast of Aceh.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) public information officer Mitra Salima Suryono said the US, as the host country for the resettlement, has been questioning the refugees since the beginning of this month. 

“The interviews are expected to run through the end of this month,” she said on Tuesday. 

US Consulate in Medan, North Sumatra, announced that 184 Rohingya refugees will be interviewed for the resettlement process. Deputy Consul Tamra Greig said the interview results would determine the number of refugees that would be resettled in the US.

About 800 Rohingya people are currently staying in Indonesia, all of whom have been granted refugee status by the UNHCR. 

The Medan Immigration office recorded that there are currently 290 Rohingya people living in Medan, 119 were transferred recently from Aceh for the relocation process. Medan currently hosts 2,064 asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia and Sri Lanka waiting to be sent to third countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. 

The US government had expressed interest in accepting the refugees through the Office of Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister last month. 

The interviews have been conducted by US officials overseeing refugees from Bangkok.

Separately, groups and residents in Medan, North Sumatra, have been gathering charity to support Rohingya people currently living in the city after fleeing from their home country to escape persecution. 

Sulaiman, one of the fund-raisers, said residents were enthusiastic to contribute. “The funds collected from the street were about Rp 3 million [US$225] and Rp 20 million from the mosques,” he said. 

As of April, Indonesia was home to over 13,500 refugees and asylum seekers. The majority are in Greater Jakarta, while the remainder reside in cities such as Batam, Makassar and Medan.

As a non-signatory of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, Indonesia does not have the authority to determine the status of asylum seekers and must wait for verification from the UNHCR. However, as part of international law, Indonesia cannot expel people facing persecution in their countries of origin.

In the wake of global migrant crises that have seen at least 65 million people flee from wars, armed conflicts and persecution in their countries, the UNHCR has urged Indonesia to reconsider signing the refugee convention as part of concerted efforts to resolve the issue of irregular migration.

The UNHCR Assistance High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk, argued that all countries were affected by forced displacement of people and suggested that Indonesia would be best served by being a party to the convention.

“The solution doesn’t lie in one country alone; it requires an approach with all countries in the region,” Turk said.

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