Spill-over effects of Rohingya issue on Indonesia

Many Rohingya arriving in Indonesia have to wait for years in detention centers awaiting UN assessment for refugee status.
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - As the tension has escalated in Myanmar due to sectarian conflicts between two different ethnic groups, more refugees were flowing out of the country by boats and some of them were stranded in other ASEAN member nations including in Indonesia.

Over the past two days (April 7 and 8, 2013), the Indonesian authorities had detained Myanmarese refugees respectively on Sumatra and Java Islands for illegal entry into the Indonesian waters, although their intended destinations were actually Australia and Malaysia.

A total of 80 Rohingya Muslims, including five women and six children, were arrested by Aceh police when they arrived on Pulo Aceh isles, off the northwestern coast of Sumatra, from Rakhine Province, Maynmar. They said they wanted to go to Malaysia but they lost their way, according to a police officer of Aceh Province.

In the wee hour of April 8, 2013, 53 illegal immigrants from Myanmar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, were rescued and detained by Banten Provincial authorities as their boat leaked while sailing in Anyer waters, western tip of Java Island, to Christmas Island, Australia. They include two women and an infant.

On April 5, 2013, Surabaya Police in East Java Province detained 35 Rohingya trying to escape to Australia.

Previously, on February 26 and 28, 2013, two wooden boats with no engine and carrying a total of 284 Rohingya refugees including women and children, were separately found adrift in Aceh waters by Aceh fishermen.

Those Rohingya refugees were just part of the influx of Myanmar immigrants. Some of them had landed in other countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Bangladesh, not only in Indonesia.

Many Rohingya arriving in Indonesia have to wait for years in detention centers awaiting UN assessment for refugee status.

An international conference on "The Plight of The Rohingya: Solution?" which was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on September 17, 2012, expressed serious concern about the consequences of a prolonged non resolution of the Rohingya issue and warned of spill-over effects on neighboring South Asian and ASEAN member countries.

The prolonged sectarian conflicts in Myanmar, directly or indirectly, triggered a deadly clash between two different ethnic groups of Myanmar at Belawan immigration detention center in Medan, North Sumatra, on April 5, 2013.

The Belawan center is accommodating foreign detainees from several countries, including 117 Rohingya asylum seekers and 11 Myanmarese fishermen being detained for poaching in Indonesian waters.

Eight Myanmarese fishermen were killed, and 21 Rohingyas were injured in the brawl at the over-crowded center.

"Investigation has been carried out by the resort police in

Belawan supported by police from the regional police command," Brigadier General Boy Rafli Amar, a spokesman of the National Police, said in Jakarta, recently.

He said actions had been taken with regard to law enforcement and

to localize the incident and prevent further clashes.

According to media report, the North Sumatra Police have named 18 Rohingya refugees suspects for the bloody brawl.

"They are accused of conducting collective assault and torturing. They face a maximum sentence of 12 years if proven guilty," local police spokesman Senior Commissioner Heru Prakoso said.

According to police investigations Rohingnya refugees were angered when a female refugee was sexually harassed by the fishermen.

"We found no other motive. Thus, speculation that the brawl was because of religious differences wasn`t true," he said.

Commenting on the clash in Medan, Indonesian Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said the government would take necessary measures to prevent the horizontal conflict in Myanmar from spreading to other ASEAN countries, including Indonesia.

"Right now we are still collecting detailed information about the clash in Medan and necessary actions would be taken immediately to

prevent the horizontal conflict in Myanmar from spreading to Indonesia," he said.

"We did not know yet why the illegal fishermen and the Rohingya refugees were put in the same place," the minister added.

Minister Natalegawa told a joint two-day workshop on conflict prevention and preventive diplomacy in Jakarta, that it was difficult to discern whether a security challenge in one nation was also a regional one.

"Very rapidly, any conditions that are unstable even within countries can become at least a nontraditional type of security threat to the rest of the region," he said. "This applies to all of us, basically."

Speaking in the same workshop, UN secretary general`s special adviser for Myanmar affairs, Vijay Nambiar, expressed worries over the possibility of the conflict in Myanmar to spread to other countries in the region.

"The horizontal conflict in Myanmar could have implications on the region and so regional approach is needed for its settlement," he said.

Senior UNHCR officer Vivian Tan in Jakarta on March 20, 2013, called for an immediate solution to the sectarian violence against Rohingya people as more cases of illegal migration by sea being reported by neighboring countries.

"The root causes that should be addressed now is how to improve their life, remove restrictions that they are facing currently so they can be where they are and not moving out of the country illegally," she said.

The sectarian conflict in Myanmar since last year has made hundred thousand Myanmarese people from Rakhine to flee to other countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Australia.

Previously, following the fresh conflicts in Rakhine State and other areas last month, Minister Marty Natalegawa had urged Myanmar to hold peace talks to prevent the spread of horizontal conflicts throughout the country.

And on the sidelines of the Fifth Bali Process Meeting Nusa Dua, Bali, April 2, 2013, Minister Marty Natalegawa and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Dipu Moni, held a bilateral meeting to discuss the Rohingya issue.

Bangladesh as the major recipient of Rohingya refugees, wanted to have in-depth discussion with Indonesia regarding the problem, Marty said.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees have migrated to Bangladesh. "The point is how we could prevent the problem from becoming more complicated," the Indonesian minister added.

Last March 2013, tens of Rohingya refugees staged a protest in Medan demanding the United Nation Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to move them immediately to third country such as Australia.

One of the protesters, Zaid Husein (28), said the refugees were tired of waiting for over four years and they wanted to immediately leave Indonesia and be sent to other country. "We are very disappointed with the UNHCR," the asylum seeker said. (*)

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