Monday, February 9, 2009


By Fardah Assegaf
     Jakarta, Feb. 9, 2009 (ANTARA) - Weakened , starved and emaciated by their ordeals at sea,  Rohingya refugees in Indonesia's western most province of Aceh and in Thailand might never have imagined that their plight would  come into the international spotlight. Now their unfortunate fate has attracted the attention of  among others Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda and famous Hollywood actress Angeline Jolie.
     Over the past one month, Aceh Province has received nearly 400 Rohingya refugees. Some 193 Rohingya boat people got stranded in Sabang, Aceh on January 7, 2008, and another 198 Rohingyas reached the coast of Aceh after 21 days at sea, with some of them in a critical condition on February 3, 2008.

     Shocked and cautious about  the arrival of the 391 Rohingya boat people mostly hailing  from Myanmar and some from Bangladesh, the Indonesian government has called for a stop to human rights violations and the  flow of people from those countries.
      Referring to the Muslim refugees from Myanmar, Minister Wirajuda in a press briefing here recently said that Indonesia looked at the refugee issue as an international issue and would take diplomatic actions to settle it.
      He said the country would intensify coordination with international organizations such as IOM (International Organization for Migration), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), and  involve the country of origin, country of transit as well as country of destination for the settlement of Rohingya boat people.
      Thailand, another ASEAN  (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member country where many Rohingya refugees have also turned up, planned to discuss the Rohingya migrant issue in a visit by Thailand's Minister of Foreign Affairs Kasit Piromya in Jakarta scheduled for February 10 to 12, 2008, according to Thai News Agency (TNA) in Bangkok  recently.
     TNA quoted Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of East Asian Affairs deputy director-general Medha Promthep as saying that the problem was not that of any one country alone, but was regional and required cooperation from all the countries affected to resolve.
      Indonesia also planned to discuss the Rohingya refugee issue with Australia in a ministerial level meeting of the Bali Process on refugee smuggling and human trafficking.
      "By the end of last year, Indonesia has established coordination with the Australia government to hold the Bali Process in June this year. However, considering the urgency of handling people smuggling and trafficking and cases of  boat people, including  Rohingyas from Myanmar, Indonesia was trying to hold the conference earlier than scheduled," Wirajuda said.
      The Bali Process is a mechanism to settle human trafficking and smuggling especially from Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan heading for Australia, with a transit in Indonesia.
      Minister Wirajuda also called an ASEAN meeting to discuss the Rohingya refugee case.
     "The countries of origin and  transit are ASEAN member countries. Pushing the boat to sea will likely  cause other ASEAN members to  bear the burden. It is reasonable to talk about this issue in an ASEAN meeting," he said.
      Expressing its extreme concerns, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus 
(AIPMC) recently strongly urged the governments of Thailand and Indonesia to treat the Rohingya boat people humanely and accord them protection.
     AIPMC strongly recommended that ASEAN use its regional summit, to be held later this month, to better address the issue of international migrants fleeing the repressive Myanmar regime.
     "ASEAN has an opportunity to show new leadership by taking this opportunity to strengthen its ASEAN Charter and proposed ASEAN Human Rights Body," said AIPMC,  an organization comprising legislators from various ASEAN member-states, in a press statement issued by Roshan Jason, AIPMC executive director, in Kuala Lumpur recently.
      The Rohingya people of western Myanmar's Arakan State have been called one of the world's most persecuted people. Some argue that they are also one of the most forgotten.
      Even though they had been living in Myanmar (in the past called Burma) for hundreds of years, the memebrs of the Muslim minority group are forbidden from marrying or traveling without permission and have no legal right to own land or property. They are also denied citizenship by the country's military government.
      In 1992, 250,000 or a third of the Rohingya population fled across Myanmar's border into Bangladesh to escape the persecution.
      The Muslim refugees, who said that many of  their fellow boat people had died during their flight in traditional boats  from their country,  received much sympathy from the Aceh people as well as some NGOs in Indonesia.
    The Aceh People's Party (PRA), for instance,  called on the Aceh people to show their solidarity with the Muslim Rohingya refugees and rejected  any plan to deport them hastily.
       "PRA objects to the Indonesian government's plan to deport the Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar hastily. We urge the Aceh administration to temporarity accommodate them," Rahmad Djailani, a PRA executive, said in Banda Aceh, the Aceh provincial capital, late January 2009.
       In Jakarta, a Muslim organization called Jama'ah Muslimin Hizbullah, in a  press statement on Saturday (Feb. 7),  called on the Indonesian government to form an independent fact-finding team to investigate the displacement of the Rohingya Muslims from their country,  Myanmar.
    Hizbullah leader Muhyiddin Hamidy said  the  prosecution of  the Rohingyas by the Myanmar military regime was a crime against humanity and had offended  Muslims throughout the world.
    Concern over the rights of Rohingya refugees was also voiced by Angelina Jolie when she visited the Ban Mai Nai Soi refugee camp in Thailand recently.
     "As with all people, they deserve to have their human rights respected..", said Jolie, who is a goodwill ambassador for the UN High Commissioner of Refugees.

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