Activists call on Indonesia to put Rohingya refugees in Asean spotlight

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Indonesia had received a total of 644 Rohingya refugees who arrived in five boats on Nov 15 and 16, Dec 25 and 26 and on Jan 8.

A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil

A. Muh. Ibnu Aqil

The Jakarta Post


Rohingya refugees eat food in a temporary shelter after arriving by boat on Dec. 27, 2022 in Laweueng, Aceh.(AFP/Chaideer Mahyudin)

January 16, 2023

JAKARTA – Rights activists are calling on Indonesia, which has received over 600 Rohingya refugees in recent weeks, to make use of its ASEAN chairmanship this year to address the issue.

Executive director Atika Yuanita Paraswaty of SUAKA, or the Indonesian Civil Society Association for Refugee Rights Protection, said that it should be lauded that the people of Aceh had been relatively welcoming to the Rohingya refugees who had landed in the province.

She said that while a 2016 presidential regulation facilitated Indonesia’s treatment of refugee arrivals, more needed to be done.

“We appreciate that measure, but unfortunately there are no [provisions] in the regulation that mention fulfilling the rights of refugees while they are here,” Atika said on Friday.

She noted that although the government had not ratified the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, it had ratified a raft of international human rights conventions that meant Jakarta was still obligated to uphold refugee rights.

Atika said Indonesia needed to intensify diplomatic efforts with neighboring countries, especially Myanmar and other ASEAN states, to help the Rohingya further by minimizing their persecution.

“There is now a good opportunity for that, which is Indonesia’s 2023 ASEAN chairmanship […] because we will have a higher bargaining position to address this issue in ASEAN meetings,” she said.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Indonesia had received a total of 644 Rohingya refugees who arrived in five boats on Nov. 15 and 16, Dec. 25 and 26 and on Jan. 8.

UNHCR Indonesia representative Ann Maymann expressed hope that Indonesia would highlight the Rohingya situation and open discussions on the issue in ASEAN as its current chair.

“It’s important to put the issue on the table because many think that if we don’t talk about it, it will disappear. But it will not,” Maymann said on Friday.

She also expressed a hope that Indonesia would articulate the crisis in Myanmar and its impacts on the Rohingya minority, as well as the difficulties faced by neighboring Bangladesh, which was hosting the greatest number of Rohingya refugees.

Maymann suggested several practical initiatives, such as convening a regional meeting that involved countries hosting Rohingya refugees. Other countries with experience in returning and reintegrating displaced populations could also share good practices.

“We need to help the conditions [for the refugees’ return] to be developed. The Rohingya can’t just go back [to Myanmar] if it is still not safe,” she said.

Human Rights Watch’s Asia deputy director, Phil Robertson, said separately that a concerted regional effort was needed to address the Rohingya issue.

He pointed out that nothing was being done for the Rohingya refugees at the Bali Process, the international forum dealing with the issues of trafficking and migration at the regional level.

“There needs to be a serious response led by Indonesia as the ASEAN chair, as the cochair of the Bali Process dialogue,” Robertson said on Thursday during a press conference on the HRW’s World Report 2023 in Jakarta.

During her annual press briefing on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi noted that no progress had been made to resolve the Rohingya issue.

“The Rohingya issue will be more difficult to resolve [in light of] the current situation in Myanmar. The Rohingya issue cannot be resolved if the root cause of the problem is unaddressed,” she said.

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