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News / Nation & World

More Rohingya refugees arrive in Indonesia despite rejection from locals

By Associated Press
Published: December 31, 2023, 12:49pm

MEDAN, Indonesia — Nearly 150 Rohingya refugees, mostly hungry and weak women and children, have reached a beach in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province after weeks at sea, officials said Sunday.

The group of 53 men, 39 women and 55 children arrived on Karang Gadih beach in Langkat district late Saturday, said the village head, Muhammad Amiruddin. A rickety, leaky wooden boat that brought them from Bangladesh was moored on a lighthouse island not far from the village, he said.

Five among the refugees were sick after the long journey and residents gave them food and water while they waited for instructions from immigration and local officials to decide where to take them. Residents do not want the refugees in their communities, however, and last week many protested the recent Rohingya arrivals.

“We helped them as they look very weak from hunger and dehydration,” Amiruddin said. “But many residents cannot accept them to live in our village because they will only bring problems later.”

He said that one of the refugees told authorities that they sailed from the Cox Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh to Indonesia and became stranded on a lighthouse island.

About 740,000 Rohingya were resettled in Bangladesh after fleeing their homes in Myanmar to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by security forces. But the camps in Bangladesh are squalid, with surging gang violence and rampant hunger, leading many to flee again.

A mob of Indonesian students on Wednesday attacked the basement of a local community hall in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, where 137 Rohingya were taking shelter. The incident drew an outcry from human rights group and the U.N. refugee agency, which said the attack left the refugees shocked and traumatized.

Indonesia’s navy said Thursday that it forcibly pushed a boat packed with refugees back to international waters after it approached the shores of Aceh province.

It’s unclear whether the refugees who arrived late Saturday in neighboring North Sumatra province were from the same boat that was pushed away by the navy.

Indonesia has appealed to the international community for help and intensified patrols of its waters due to a sharp rise in Rohingya refugees leaving overcrowded camps in Bangladesh since November. Over 1,500 Rohingya have arrived in Aceh and faced some hostility from fellow Muslims.

Indonesia, like Thailand and Malaysia, is not a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention so is not obligated to accept the Rohingya. So far, refugees in distress have received at least temporary accommodation.

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