In a contentious move, Indonesia’s navy intercepted a boat suspected of carrying Rohingya refugees and forcibly pushed it back into international waters as it approached the shores of Aceh province. The incident comes amidst a surge in arrivals of boats carrying Rohingya refugees, largely originating from southern Bangladesh.
The Indonesian navy reported on Thursday that a coast guard vessel had detected a boat believed to be carrying Rohingya refugees entering Indonesian waters on Wednesday. A subsequent helicopter reconnaissance from a navy ship spotted a wooden vessel nearing Weh island in north Aceh province.
The navy ship, KRI Bontang-907, located the boat approximately 63 nautical miles off the Indonesian coast and compelled it to leave the area, ensuring it did not re-enter Indonesian waters, as detailed in a statement posted on the navy’s website.
Indonesia has witnessed a significant rise in Rohingya refugees departing overcrowded camps in Bangladesh since November. Over 1,500 Rohingya have arrived in Aceh, encountering some hostility from locals, including a recent distressing incident involving a mob of students.
Footage obtained by The Associated Press depicted a group of refugees—mostly women and children—distressed and in tears as individuals wearing university jackets forcibly moved the Rohingya from a local community hall in Banda Aceh where they had sought shelter.
This incident drew widespread condemnation from human rights organizations and the UN refugee agency, which expressed concern about the traumatic experience the refugees underwent.
Despite the influx, Indonesia, alongside Thailand and Malaysia, is not a signatory to the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention, absolving it of obligations to accept Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. However, refugees in distress have been provided temporary accommodations.
Indonesia, historically more tolerant of such arrivals compared to Thailand and Malaysia, has witnessed a shift in sentiment, especially in Aceh, where Rohingya have been accused of disruptive behavior and creating a burden on local resources.
The increasing hostility towards Rohingya in some Indonesian communities has amplified pressure on President Joko Widodo’s government to address the situation. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi acknowledged the complexity of the issue, citing the enormous challenges it poses.
The Rohingya crisis stems from their exodus from Myanmar, where they faced a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by security forces. Reports of mass atrocities, including rape, murder, and village destruction, have led to international courts investigating potential genocide and severe human rights abuses by Myanmar authorities.
Efforts to repatriate the Rohingya have faltered due to concerns about their safety in Myanmar, where they are systematically denied citizenship rights and encounter widespread social discrimination.
As the influx of Rohingya continues, Indonesia grapples with the moral and logistical complexities of handling the refugee crisis amid rising tensions and international scrutiny.
Sources By Agencies