Tension in Indonesia as Rohingya Refugees Seek Shelter

Tension in Indonesia as Rohingya Refugees Seek Shelter
Photo source: Rohingya refugees arriving on the Aceh coast on November 16, 2023, before being turned away by locals, by Amanda Jufrian via Getty Images.


Jeanne Gachet 

Southeast Asia & Pacific Team 

Global Human Rights Defence 


Since 2017, Myanmar’s crackdown on the Rohingya minority group has generated mass forced migration in Southeast Asia, creating tension in the region as refugees seek shelter. In August of that year, the military committed massacres, mass rapes, and arson in northern Rhakhine State, prompting 800.000 Rohingya individuals to flee to flooded refugee camps in Bangladesh while over 600.000 remained under oppressive Burmese rule. 

This resulted in a joint declaration of intervention by France, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Britain, and Canada before the ICJ against alleged genocidal acts targeting the Muslim Rohingya in November 2023. Notably, these states have condemned the particularly intense violence against women and children that has been observed over the past six years. 

As a result of the crackdown, about one million refugees live in camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, near the Myanmar border. Each year, thousands risk their lives on boats in order to seek better conditions in Malaysia or Indonesia. However, Indonesian authorities and locals have expressed their unwillingness to welcome these individuals, with attempts to even physically push boats back to sea. 

Current situation

On December 10th, 2023, roughly 300 Rohingya refugees reached the Indonesian coast in the Aceh province, resulting in increased tension in the region. The food and water-deprived survivors had been at sea for weeks on end, fleeing the poor conditions they were met with in Bangladeshi camps. They feared for their lives, their supplies had been exhausted and their boats had started to sink. Two boats arrived at dawn, one carrying 180 refugees and the other 135. Another boat has gone missing. The Aceh province’s regent, Muhammad Iswanto, stated that same day that the displaced persons would be transferred to a temporary shelter. 

However, locals have grown hostile to the idea of providing shelter for refugees, refusing to share supplies and funds. Over one hundred protesters have demonstrated their discontent, explaining that the region is already poor and that the focus should be on local issues. The provincial government has also stated that it refuses to bear responsibility for the expenses related to this, such as funding tents for the newcomers. As a response to these concerns, President Joko Widodo has announced the arrangement of temporary humanitarian relief that would take into account the local community as a priority.

The UN refugee agency’s Southeast Asia office has expressed deep concern surrounding the increasing influx of refugees resulting from rising tension in Myanmar and poor conditions in Bangladesh, and notably the demographic most impacted by this issue, with 75% of the displaced groups being women and children. 

Sources and further information:

Al Jazeera. (2023a, November 20). European nations join Myanmar genocide case. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/17/five-european-nations-join-myanmar-genocide-case

Al Jazeera. (2023b, December 10). Tensions rise as two more boats with over 300 Rohingya land in Indonesia. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/12/10/tensions-rise-as-two-more-boats-with-over-300-rohingya-land-in-indonesia

Boat crammed with Rohingya refugees, including women and children, sent back to sea in Indonesia. (2023, November 17). CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/rohingya-refugees-indonesia-sent-back-to-sea-aceh-province/

German Federal Foreign Office. (2023, November 17). Statement on Germany’s intervention in the proceedings against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice for alleged genocide. https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/newsroom/news/-/2632040#:~:text=On%2025%20August%202022%2C%20the,Court%20on%2015%20November%202023