An estimated 400 ethnic Rohingya arrived in Indonesia’s Aceh region yesterday having taken perilous journeys on dilapidated boats.
Reuters cited the chief of a local fishing hamlet who said the arrivals of Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim minority has added to a recent influx of refugees. Miftah Cut Ade, chairman of Aceh’s fishing community, said that two boats arrived in the province, one in Pidie and one in Aceh Besar. He calculated that each boat was transporting 200 Rohingya.
According to the Hill, one boat was adrift at sea for about one and a half months, while carrying 135 people. “The boat was sinking. We had no food or water left,” said Shahidul Islam, 34. He said they had left their refugee camp in Bangladesh. The boat held 65 women, 35 men, 20 girls and 15 boys.
The other boat carrying 180 people — 74 women, 53 men, 27 girls and 26 boys — had been adrift in the Andaman Sea without adequate supplies for about 27 days.
There are reports that a third boat had set sail at a similar time but remains missing.
Reuters notes that between November and April every year, when the seas are calmer, Rohingya refugees leave on wooden boats for neighbouring Thailand and Muslim-majority countries Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Since last month, around 1,200 Rohingya have landed in the Southeast Asian country, said the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), while charity Save the Children has reported an 80 per cent increase in refugees from the Rohingya community embarking on the risky journey compared to last year.
Most of them set off from Buddhist-majority Myanmar and Bangladesh – where over a million Rohingya are residing in the world’s largest refugee settlement since fleeing their homeland six years ago due to persecution and genocidal acts against the stateless ethnic minority by Myanmar’s military.
Over 100 protesters in Sabang Island in Aceh clashed with police as they called for the Rohingya refugees to be relocated.
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However, the uptick in arrivals of refugees has been met with opposition from local residents and some social media users in Indonesia.
Earlier this month, more than 100 Acehnese protested against the presence of Rohingya refugees, calling for them to be relocated, and clashed with police.
According to the Jakarta Post, although many Acehnese, who are Muslims themselves, are sympathetic to the Rohingya, some say their patience is being tested, amid a shortage in resources and say the refugees occasionally come into conflict with locals.
On Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that he suspects human trafficking networks to be behind the increase in arrivals of Rohingya. “There is a strong suspicion that human trafficking networks are involved … Indonesia will take firm action against them,” he said in a livestreamed video, without elaborating.
Widodo said that his country will give temporary humanitarian aid, but will continue to prioritise the needs of local residents.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees but has taken in refugees in the past when they have arrived.