Rohingya refugees are denied entrance in Indonesia

Rohingya refugees are denied entrance in Indonesia
Photo Source: Rohingya refugees arriving in a cramped boat in Indonesia, Aceh, Indonesia, via AFP, 16th November 2023


Nuno Daun

Southeast Asia & Pacific Team 

Global Human Rights Defense


The Rohingya people are an ethnic group who follow Islam, predominantly having resided in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. Under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya were effectively denied citizenship, rendering them stateless. Since 2016, the Muslim Rohingya people have suffered severe persecution resulting in the death of over 25.000 people at the hands of the Burmese military forces, a series of events that is now known as the “Rohingya genocide.” According to Rohingya refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch, they detailed that the Myanmar military forces would raid villages, kill and rape the locals before torching their homes.

Following the incidents that led to the death of thousands of people, an estimated 700.000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, whilst 600.000 still reside under oppressive rule in Myanmar. Those who remain in the Rakhine State still face systematic abuse. They are confined to camps, deprived of their liberty without proper access to food, healthcare, education or adequate living conditions. Consequently, this has increased the influx of Rohingya refugees escaping Myanmar to the surrounding nations in the Southeast Pacific region.

Arriving in Indonesia

On the 16th of November 2023, a decrepit wooden boat carrying about 350 Rohingya refugees arrived at the coast of Aceh, Indonesia, after having spent three weeks at sea, having set out from Bangladesh. However, they were confronted with locals denying them entrance, with a community leader claiming that they were using their port as a point of entry for human trafficking. They proceeded to push the boat back into the sea, forcing them to coast at a nearby town a few miles down. Some of the local fishermen provided some of the refugees with water, blankets and food after noticing the dire state that some of the refugees were in, with some clearly ill, malnourished and starving. Many of the disembarked refugees collapsed on the beach after having spent weeks at sea with little to no resources, many of the refugees aboard the boat were women and children. Late into the evening, a video surfaced of refugees being dragged and forced back into the boat by local residents. As per prior reports, people in Aceh had welcomed refugees as a port of entry into Indonesia before being moved into other parts of the country. However, tension between the locals and refugees has escalated in recent years with the increasing number of arriving refugees. 

Due to the increasing number of refugee boats arriving Myanmar and Bangladesh, Indonesia faces a new refugee crisis. A community leader stated that Indonesia is not prepared nor does it have a concrete comprehensive plan to deal with the increasing number of refugees, despite having stated in a 2016 presidential decree that the Indonesian government would create institutions to handle the arrivals. In a statement on the 17th of November, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry said that it had “no obligation or capacity to accommodate refugees or provide a permanent solution for their resettlement.” Indonesia is not  a signatory party to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocol on Refugees. Other neighboring nations, who are also not signatories of the Refugee Convention, Thailand and Malaysia, have also previously denied the entry of Rohingya and have sent boats back.

Sources and further readings: