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Indonesian Students Evict Rohingya Refugees, Demand Deportation Amid Tensions

Published December 28, 2023
7 months ago

In a deeply concerning incident, hundreds of Indonesian university students from several institutions in Aceh province took matters into their own hands when they stormed into a temporary shelter housing Rohingya refugees, with adamant demands for their deportation. This protest occurred in the city of Banda Aceh on Wednesday, which saw a wave of intense anti-Rohingya sentiment.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group from Myanmar, have faced longstanding persecution in their home country, leading to waves of refugees seeking asylum across Southeast Asia. The United Nations has observed that over 1,500 Rohingya refugees have taken the treacherous journey by sea to Aceh since mid-November, marking the largest influx in nearly a decade. This arrival has not been without challenges, as some local populations, including the students involved in the recent incident, have responded with hostility and rejection.

Visual accounts from the scene depict a chaotic and aggressive atmosphere, with students—identifiable by their university jackets—invading the convention center, where more than 100 refugees were housed. Chants of "Kick them out" and "Reject Rohingya in Aceh" echoed as the students commenced removing the Rohingya, even going as far as to kick their belongings, as distressed men, women, and children were ushered out.

The refugees, with their possessions hastily packed into plastic sacks, were compelled to board trucks under the watchful presence of police who initially guarded the frightened group. Reports suggest that authorities, after skirmishing with protestors, facilitated the relocation of the Rohingya to an alternative government facility.

The UNHCR has expressed its deep disturbance at the collective attack, calling for the provision of adequate protection for these vulnerable families. The agency highlighted the refugees' shock and trauma, being victims of both the confrontational removal and a harmful online campaign propagating misinformation and incitement.

Responses from the Acehnese have been mixed, with some recognizing the shared Islamic faith and sympathizing with the refugees' plight, while others express exhaustion over the perceived strain on local resources and sporadic conflicts between the Rohingya and residents.

At the forefront of the altercation was Kholilullah, a 23-year-old student, who justified the protest by arguing against the continuous inflow of Rohingya, supposedly taxing the province's capacity.

The Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, identified the surge in Rohingya arrivals as symptomatic of escalating human trafficking and pledged to work in cooperation with international bodies to provide temporary relief for the refugees. However, he also emphasized that Indonesia, not being a party to the UN refugee convention, has limited obligations and urged neighboring countries to actively participate in resettling the incoming Rohingya.

This incident has underscored the significant dilemma that Indonesia faces as the country grapples with its role in regional refugee dynamics, caught between a humanitarian response and internal pressures.

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