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Aceh embraces Rohingya refugees

Rohingya refugees receiving assistance in Aceh, Indonesia
(Courtesy Siapa Peduli Mereka)

Isra Safril and his friends went to Idi Rayeuk, a sub-district in East Aceh district, on 20 February to hand officials Rp5.1 million (US$428). It was their contribution for the 198 Rohingyas living in tents in a local government complex.

Isra is a member of the Aceh Blogger Community, which has spent the past two weeks raising money for the refugees. From 11 to 13 February, 20 volunteers from Komunitas Pengguna Linux Indonesia Aceh (Linux Users’ Community in Aceh) and Amiki Student groups, stood along a main road in Banda Aceh city with boxes, asking passing motorists for donations.

"This support fund for Rohingyas is not only because of solidarity with our Muslim peers; it is solidarity with all of humanity," Isra told IRIN. "We did not make an issue of their ethnic group, religion and thinking."

The group took their campaign to the net. On blogs and Facebook, they raise awareness of the plight of the group from Myanmar, allegedly oppressed in their own country and expelled and set adrift by Thai authorities. 

More on the Rohingya
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BANGLADESH: mohammad Ismail: “Nobody wants us”
THAILAND: Government, Army to investigate claims of Rohingya abuse
BANGLADESH: Rohingya refugee camps improved
BANGLADESH-MYANMAR: Bleak prospects for the Rohingya

Since the refugees arrived in two boats, they have been embraced by the Acehnese. In Sabang, where the first batch of 193 has been staying since they were found stranded in early January near Weh island off the northernmost tip of Aceh, Mayor Munawar Liza Zainal said the refugees were healthy and well.

"We have given them a public kitchen so they can cook for themselves. We have provided rice, vegetables and sardines," Munawar told IRIN, crediting foreign and international organisations, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Jesuit Refugee Service, for most supplies.

The mayor added the refugees went running and played football. "They are okay and healthy. Only one is still in the hospital with tuberculosis," Munawar said, adding that, contrary to some reports that the refugees were fenced in within the naval base, they lived in tents beside the harbour, with lots of space. They were, however, off-limits to the public and media.

Nasruddin Abubakar, deputy district head of East Aceh, said the 198 who arrived on 3 February were staying in Idi Rayeuk, where all their needs, including treatment for one person with malaria and one with epilepsy, were being taken care of by the local government.

"The Foreign Ministry is still processing their case. A joint team from the ministry and IOM interviewed each of them and went back to Jakarta to assess their cases," Munawar said.

The government has said it would raise the issue of the Rohingya during the Bali Process, a forum of some 50 countries launched in 2002 and co-chaired by Indonesia and Australia, to address human trafficking in the Asian region. The next talks may be moved from June to as early as March or April given the urgency of the Rohingya issue, which will also probably be addressed at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, between 27 February and 1 March. 


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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