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Indonesia urged to take in Rohingya refugees

Concern mounts for the safety of hundreds of people approaching the country on two boats

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Indonesia urged to take in Rohingya refugees

Suspected Rohingya people after arriving in Idi Rayeuk in Indonesia’s east Aceh in December 2018. Indonesian authorities are being urged to take in hundreds of Rohingya refugees on two boats heading for Aceh. (Photo: Cek Mad/AFP)

A group of religious leaders, scholars, and activists have appealed to the Indonesian government to rescue hundreds of Rohingya refugees heading to the country in boats to avoid conflict at home in Myanmar.

The appeal came after the Indonesian Maritime and Air Police reported on May 15 that at least 500 Rohingya refugees were approaching Indonesia’s Aceh province in Sumatra in two boats.

The Rohingya reportedly fled Myanmar after the military attacked civilians in Rakhine state on April 29. They were expected to arrive in Aceh or nearby areas early this week.

“We deem it necessary for the authorities in this country to permit all ships carrying the refugees to dock, for humanitarian reasons,” the group said in a statement on May 15.

The group includes Jesuit Father Franz Magnis Suseno, a lecturer at the Jakarta Driyarkara School of Philosophy, Rev. Henriette T. Lebang of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, and Usman Hamid from Amnesty International Indonesia.

They said the government should allow and welcome "persons in distress" to dock temporarily.

The United Nations Convention on the Law on the Sea and the International Maritime Organization obliges coastal countries, including Indonesia, to conduct adequate and effective search and rescue for those whose life is in danger at sea.

They also said that as an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member, Indonesia is bound by the ASEAN Charter to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“We urged the government to not refuse and push back ships with hundreds of Rohingya refugees who are trying to find a safe place [in Indonesian territory],” Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia, told UCA News on May 16.

He called on the government not to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to turn the refugees away.

“The Covid-19 pandemic should not blunt our sense of humanity. Applying health protocol, we can protect the Rohingya people from the virus and ease their suffering,” Usman said.

Yuyun Wahyuningrum, representative of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights Indonesia, told UCA News that the pandemic "is a time for compassion, especially for those who are marginalized and desperately need assistance, such as the Rohingya."

Indonesian Maritime and Air Police director Jemmy Rosdiantoro said authorities would continue to monitor the refugees.

“We have instructed all personnel to increase sea patrols to anticipate the arrival of the Rohingyas in Aceh,” he said without saying whether the refugees would be allowed to land. 

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