Tuesday, May 19, 2015


   Jakarta, May 19, 2015 (Antara) - More than 1.5 thousand asylum seekers, mostly Rohingyas from Myanmar and some Bangladeshis, were stranded in Indonesian waters after being adrift for over three months at sea while attempting to reach Malaysia or Australia.
         Some 1,418 asylum seekers are now being accommodated in North Aceh, Langsa, and Aceh Tamiang Districts in Aceh Province, and 96 others in Langkat District, North Sumatra Province.
        The migrants, including women and children, were suffering from severe dehydration and starvation when they were rescued by the local fishermen. Several of them have been admitted to the local health community centers for intensive medical treatment.
          According to Reuters, some 25 thousand migrants, mainly Rohingyas and few Bangladeshi, fled their countries on boats in the first three months of this year, with several of them being smuggled or trafficked to Thailand and being held in camps until they paid to reach the Malaysian border.

        Rohingya Muslims have faced discrimination in Rakhine Province located in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, their own country that does not want them and even does not recognize them as its citizens.
        The Rohingya minority is described by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted people.
        U.N. Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein remarked in Geneva on May 15, 2015, that the flow of frantic migrants across the Bay of Bengal will continue unless Myanmar puts an end to discrimination against its Rohingya Muslim minority, Reuters reported.
        "Until the Myanmar government addresses the institutional discrimination against the Rohingya population, including equal access to citizenship, this precarious migration will continue," he noted in a statement.
         Al Hussein also pointed out that the situation in Myanmar's Rakhine state, was "one of the principal motivators of these desperate maritime movements."
    As over 1.5 thousand asylum seekers are already at Indonesia's doorstep, the government has pledged to offer temporary shelters to them.
         "We are helping them on humanitarian grounds. Of course, we provided them with food at the shelter," M. Jusuf Kalla remarked in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, on May 18, 2015.
         He stated that Indonesia, in cooperation with international agencies, had once accommodated Vietnamese refugees on Galang Island in Riau Islands Province.
        Earlier, on May 15, 2015, the foreign ministry's spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said that Indonesia will never turn back refugee boats that enter its maritime territory.
        "I want to underline that even though Indonesia is not part of the Vienna Convention on Refugees 1951, we provide them shelter, food, and water. What we did not do was to set them on lifeboats and send them away to one of our 17 thousand islands," he affirmed.
         The Indonesian government has been working with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration to list the Rohingyas, he noted.
         "The next course of action will be handled by the UNHCR, while our main responsibility is to ensure the safety of the refugees," Nasir noted.
        He denied a report that Indonesia's Navy had turned back a boat full of Rohingya migrants. He quoted the navy's statement that the Indonesian warship KRI Sutanto had intercepted a boat carrying unknown number of refugees in the Malacca Strait region.
         "They did not indicate that they were heading to Indonesia but asked for clean water, food, and fuel. As they seemed to be passing through Malacca Strait innocently, we gave them what they needed and set them free," he explained.
         In the meantime, Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa in a statement said that her ministry has made preparations for dispatching assistance to the Rohingya refugees.
         She revealed that her ministry has also prepared public kitchens, field dump cars, and other facilities.
         In Aceh Province, the local administration and community have lent a helping hand to the Rohingya Muslims.
        Students of the University of Teuku Umaar's Faculty of Technology have organized fundraising activities in public places for them.
          "We have carried out fundraising activities for the last two days. When we heard that most of the refugees stranded in Aceh are Muslims, we immediately took this step. As long as they are still in Aceh, we will continue to collect donations," Ridhatul Akram, a coordinator from the students' group, stated on May 17, 2015.
         The public must show solidarity to Rohingya Muslims who have become victims of sectarian conflicts in their country, according to him.
          The asylum seekers from Myanmar and Bangladesh are in dire need of food and clothing, he added.
         The students lauded the Aceh provincial government for accommodating and helping the Rohingya asylum seekers.
         Governor of Aceh Darussalam Zaini Abdullah has provided aid, such as food and clothing loaded in three trucks, to the Rohingya Muslims.
        Some Indonesian legislators have urged the government to help the asylum seekers and establish cooperation with international agencies in addressing the problem.
        "Although Indonesia has not signed the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, it does not mean that the government can abandon refugees whose lives could perish at sea," Chairman of the House of Representatives' (DPR's) Commission I Mahfudz Siddik informed the press at the Parliament Building on May 18, 2015.
        For the sake of humanity, the government must be able to find solutions to help them through cooperation with international agencies and NGOs, he emphasized.
        He said the government can coordinate with the UNHCR to help the asylum seekers reach their destination countries.
         He also suggested that Indonesia along with Malaysia and Thailand should jointly apply pressure on Myanmar to deal with the political discrimination against Rohingyas as the issue has affected the region.
        Furthermore, Deputy House Speaker Fahri Hamzah stated that the government should take concrete steps and tackle the issue in cooperation with other countries.  
   "Their suffering is real. For the sake of humanity, do we have the heart to ignore them?" the lawmaker affirmed.
         Meanwhile, former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) views the wave of Rohingya asylum seekers as a test for the ASEAN to deal with these humanitarian problems.
         "This tragedy is a test for the ASEAN and other relevant countries, including agencies of the United Nations, to seek appropriate solutions," SBY tweeted on Monday.
         The condition of these refugees, especially the children, should be a cause of concern for all people, he stated.
        SBY also pointed out that it would be unfair if Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand were alone held responsible. Myanmar and Bangladesh should be held accountable for the refugees, as well.
         "People should quickly and appropriately rescue the refugees who are still at sea. We should then seek a permanent solution," he remarked.  
   Foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand are scheduled to meet in Kuala Lumpur on May 20, 2015, to discuss issues on human trafficking and people smuggling.

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