Indonesian Navy drive away boat carrying Rohingya Muslims as students storm shelter

Protesting sudents throw out Rohingya refugees from temporary shelter in Aceh

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Friday 29 December 2023 06:55

Related: Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim crisis explained

The Indonesian Navy on Thursday said it pushed back a boat crammed with Rohingya people, a day after a crowd of students stormed a convention centre forcing out the refugees.

Over 1,500 Rohingya Muslims, who fled the violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar to subsequently leave overcrowded refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, have arrived in Aceh since November.

A coast guard vessel detected a boat thought to be carrying Rohingya refugees entering Indonesia's waters on Wednesday, the navy said. A helicopter from a navy ship subsequently spotted a wooden vessel nearing Weh island in north Aceh province.

The navy ship KRI Bontang-907 located the boat about 63 nautical miles off the Indonesian coast and drove it out, "ensuring that the boat did not return to Indonesian waters", the navy statement read.

Earlier in the week over 200 students protested in front of the provincial parliament in Banda Aceh, claiming that the refugees would bring social and economic upheaval to the community.

"Get out Rohingya," the protesters chanted and burned tires on the streets, while criticisng the government and the UN refugee agency for failing to manage the refugee arrivals.

"We urged the parliament speaker to immediately take a firm action to remove all Rohingya refugees from Aceh," Teuku Wariza, one of the protest organisers, told Associated Press.

The crowd then marched to a local community hall sheltering Rohingyas and threw out clothes and other belongings.

A large group of refugees, mostly women and children, were seen crying as the livid mob broke through a police cordon and forcibly put refugees on the back of two trucks.

The incident drew an outcry from human rights groups and the UNHCR, which said the attack left the refugees shocked and traumatised.

"UNHCR reminds everyone that desperate refugee children, women and men seeking shelter in Indonesia are victims of persecution and conflict, and are survivors of deadly sea journeys," the agency said in a statement.

The refugees were reportedly relocated to another shelter by the Indonesian authorities.

Indonesia, like Thailand and Malaysia, is not a signatory to the UN' 1951 Refugee Convention so is not obligated to accept the Rohingya coming from Bangladesh. So far, refugees in distress have received at least temporary accommodations.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry earlier in December said the government was willing to provide temporary shelters for Rohingya refugees “to give time for international organisations that have a mandate to handle this matter, especially UNHCR, to be able to carry out their obligations.”

About 740,000 Rohingya were resettled in Bangladesh after fleeing their homes in neighboring Myanmar to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign carried out in 2017 by security forces.

Accusations of mass rape, murder and the burning of entire villages are well documented, and international courts are considering whether Myanmar authorities committed genocide and other grave human rights abuses.

Additional reporting by agencies

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