Rohingya refugees flee shelter amid tensions with locals

The refugees might have left their shelters for several reasons, including to reunite with their families, said UNHCR spokesperson Mitra Salima Suryono.

Radhiyya Indra

Radhiyya Indra

The Jakarta Post


January 26, 2024

JAKARTAThree Rohingya refugees ran away from their shelter in Banda Aceh on Tuesday amid heightened tensions between members of the displaced ethnic group and locals in the province.

The three people, identified as Sana Ullah, 22; Shobir Hossain, 19, and Azim Ultah, 19, reportedly fled the basement of the Balai Meuseuraya Aceh building in Banda Aceh at the break of dawn through its back door.

The building is housing more than 120 refugees who landed on Lamreh beach in Aceh Besar regency on Dec. 10, 2023.

“They ran away without taking their belongings. One [identity] bracelet was left inside the building, while the other two may have brought theirs with them,” Banda Aceh Police security intelligence unit chief Comr. Suryo Sumatri Darmoyo said on Tuesday, as quoted by

He was referring to the identity bracelet given to each refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The police believed the three runaways did not have anyone to pick them up outside the building, as authorities had confiscated their mobile phones, leaving them with no means of communication with the outside world.

As of Thursday evening, the departees were still at large. Suryo said the police believed they were still in Aceh and called on residents to report any information about their whereabouts.

There are now 124 refugees left in the Balai Meuseuraya Aceh building.

Three other refugees in the province are in police custody after being named suspects in a human trafficking case, while seven more are under police investigation.

Mortal risk

The Tuesday incident adds to a long list of Rohingya refugees who have fled shelters across Aceh since last year.

According to data from the Banda Aceh Police, 190 Rohingya escaped shelters in the province in 2023, one of whom was eventually found dead.

The deceased Rohingya, 32-year-old M. Noor, died of health complications, according to the police report.

The police have also found several escaped Rohingya, such as in March of last year when authorities captured 12 of 28 refugees who had escaped a shelter in Ladong village, Aceh Besar.

Based on patterns from previous cases, the refugees might have left their shelters for several reasons, including to reunite with their families in neighboring countries, said UNHCR spokesperson Mitra Salima Suryono.

The UN refugee body had told the refugees about the risk they would face if they decided to embark on a second journey to meet their relatives, who might be sheltered in nearby countries.

“The fact that these vulnerable women, men and children are still deciding to continue their journey despite knowing the risks shows their desperation for a long-term solution and to be with their families again,” Mitra told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

According to UNHCR data, around 107,000 Rohingya refugees were sheltered in Malaysia as of December 2023. Bangladesh, which borders Myanmar, shelters the most Rohingyas, with 960,000 people staying there.

Recently, Indonesia has seen an unprecedented wave of Rohingya refugees arriving in the country, with over 1,500 people entering since November 2023, according to the UNHCR. The Rohingya people were originally displaced by a Myanmar military crackdown in 2017.

Among the latest wave were 140 Rohingya arriving in the Deli Serdang, North Sumatra by boat on Dec. 30, 2023, mostly women and children. They came after the Indonesian Navy announced that it had driven away a boat carrying Rohingya in waters further north off Sumatra.

The Rohingya in Aceh have also faced rejection from locals, including an incident when hundreds of university students stormed a temporary shelter at a government function hall in Banda Aceh and forced them to leave.

Footage circulating online showed the students chanting “kick them out” and “reject the Rohingya in Aceh”, while kicking the refugees’ belongings.

The UNHCR has been coordinating with local authorities to provide emergency aid to the refugees. Meanwhile, the government has instructed the Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) to increase patrols to prevent an influx of Rohingya refugees and says it is seeking humanitarian solutions, including relocating refugees to new shelters to prevent overcrowding.

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