Monthly Archives: May 2016

For Rohingya refugees in Aceh, a new home far from home


Source DVB, 11 May

Rohingya refugee Noor Halima with her daughter Yasmin Ara in Lhok Bani Refugee Camp. Noor Halima, 15 year old, arrived in Aceh one year ago with her husband. She was pregnant during the dangerous journey at sea and gave birth in the Indonesian province. Her husband left Aceh for Malaysia a few months ago. (Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
Rohingya refugee Noor Halima with her daughter Yasmin Ara in Lhok Bani Refugee Camp. Noor Halima,
15 year old, arrived in Aceh one year ago with her husband. She was pregnant during the dangerous journey
at sea and gave birth in the Indonesian province. Her husband left Aceh for Malaysia a few months ago.
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)

In May of last year, thousands of Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants were stranded at sea for weeks after the Thai and Malaysian governments cracked down on the human traffickers who were taking them to Malaysia. In dramatic scenes that made headlines all around the world, their boats were pushed back out to the open sea by the navies of Thailand and Malaysia until they were reluctantly allowed to come ashore.

In the midst of that tragedy, a group of fishermen from Aceh, a province at the north-western tip of Indonesia, decided to launch an operation to rescue two boats spotted near the coast. Defying direct orders from the Indonesian Navy, they eventually took almost 2,000 people — both Rohingya people fleeing persecution in Burma’s Arakan State and Bangladeshi migrants looking for a better life in Malaysia — to Aceh.

“We didn’t even know who these people were, but we had to save them,” Teungku Tahe, an influential community leader from the city of Langsa who coordinated the rescue operations, told DVB at that time. “We received SMSs telling us not to save the boats if we saw them, but our obligation is to take to the shore anybody who is in the sea, even if it is a corpse or an animal that we find, we have the obligation to save it,” he added.

One year later, all but four Bangladeshis have been repatriated to their country of origin, and, with the help of human smugglers, most Rohingya refugees have gone to Malaysia, where many of them had relatives waiting for them.

Nevertheless, around 250 Rohingya refugees have decided to stay in four camps in Aceh, three of them in the city of Langsa, managed by the local government, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and several local and international NGOs. And the local authorities are doing their best to integrate them into Acehnese society.

“We are explaining to the local community who the Rohingya are, what their problems are and why they had to leave their country. As part of the Rohingyas’ socialization, we are using a cultural approach based on our tradition of Pemulia Jamee [“welcoming our guests”],” Suriyatno, the first assistant of the mayor of Langsa, explains to DVB. “We are encouraging the refugees to work informally with the Acehnese people in coffee shops, fishing boats, and so on, as a matter of dignity and as their human right,” he adds.

The refugees here are relatively free compared those in the detention centres in Malaysia or Thailand: They can leave the camps during the day to look for odd jobs, and the local government is even launching a program to enroll Rohingya children in the Indonesian formal education system. So far, six children have been accepted and are attending classes in a public school in Langsa. “We don’t look at them as refugees, but as human beings. We call them our guests,” explains Suriyatno.

While all of the Rohingya who spoke to DVB recently in the camps in Langsa told us that they feel welcome in Aceh, many of them expressed their desire to resettle in third countries like the United States or Canada, or to continue their journey to their intended destination: Malaysia. “We understand that the refugees didn’t [choose to] come to Indonesia, and that they want to leave. They are welcome here, but if they want to leave, that’s their choice,” says Suriyatno.

One year after organizing the rescue operations, Teungku Taher is still willing to accept the Rohingya in Aceh. “I think the local people will also benefit if they stay here, as they can work with us in the fishing boats or other places. We bonded together during the rescue, and we can understand and forgive easily each other,” he explains.

“If the Rohingyas are better here than in any other place, I think it’s better they stay here with us,” he adds.

Rohingya refugees take some rest in their room at Timbang Refugee Camp, in the outskirts of Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
Rohingya refugees rest in their room at Timbang Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of Langsa City.
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
A group of Rohingya women and children receive a donor from a Dutch NGO at Lhok Bani Refugee Camp, in Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
A group of Rohingya women and children wait to receive a donor from a Dutch NGO at Lhok Bani
Refugee Camp, in Langsa City. (Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
A Rohingya refugee studies English in his room at Timbang Refugee Camp, in the outskirts of Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
A Rohingya refugee studies English in his room at Timbang Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of Langsa City.
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
Acehnese doctors treat a Rohingya kid who got injured in his head when he was playing football at Langsa General Hospital in Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
Acehnese doctors at Langsa General Hospital treat a Rohingya child whose head was injured while playing
football. (Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
A Rohingya refugee gives another a haircut at Bayeun Refugee Camp, in the outskirts of Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
A Rohingya refugee gives another a haircut at Bayeun Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of Langsa City
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
Two Rohingya men play Badminton at Timbang Refugee Camp, in the outskirts of Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
Two Rohingya men play Badminton at Timbang Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of Langsa City.
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
Rohingya refugee at Lhok Bani Refugee Camp, in Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). This seven year old girl is an orphan who arrived to Aceh one year ago with her two younger sisters. Now she is attending an Indonesian public school in Langsa with five other Rohingya children. Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
This seven-year-old girl is an orphan who arrived in Aceh one year ago with her two younger sisters.
Now she is attending an Indonesian public school in Langsa with five other Rohingya children.
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
Two Rohingya men take a nap in their room at Bayeun Refugee Camp, in the outskirts of Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
Two Rohingya men take a nap in their room at Bayeun Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of Langsa City.
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
A group of Rohingya women relax in Lhok Bani Refugee Camp, in Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
A group of Rohingya women relax in Lhok Bani Refugee Camp, in Langsa City. (Photo: Carlos Sardiña
Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
A Rohingya man cooks at Timbang Refugee Camp, in the outskirts of Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
A Rohingya man cooks at Timbang Refugee Camp, on the outskirts of Langsa City. (Photo: CarlosSardiña
Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
Two Acehnese men trim the fingernails of a Rohingya child in Lhok Bani Refugee Camp, in Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
Two Acehnese men trim the fingernails of a Rohingya child in Lhok Bani Refugee Camp, in Langsa City.
(Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)
Two Rohingya women speak on the phone with their relatives in Burma at the entrance of Lhok Bani Refugee Camp, in Langsa City (Aceh Province, Indonesia). Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh.
Two Rohingya women speak on the phone with their relatives in Burma at the entrance of Lhok Bani Refugee
Camp, in Langsa City. (Photo: Carlos Sardiña Galache / Yayasan Geutanyoe – A Foundation for Aceh)

A Year After Landing in Indonesia, Rohingyas Linger in Camps


Source Benarnews, 02 Mar

rohingya-620.jpeg

Sanuar Begum (right) enjoys a meal with husband Abdul Roshid (second from left) and relatives at a camp in Bayeun, East Aceh Regency, April 23, 2016.Nurdin Hasan/BenarNews

Sanuar Begum was among more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar who landed in the Indonesian province of Aceh last May, when local fishermen rescued boatloads of desperate and hungry passengers off smugglers’ vessels abandoned at sea.

A year later, only about 250 Rohingyas remain at four refugee camps scattered across the province. But although many of her fellow residents at the Bayeun camp in East Aceh Regency complain about being idle and only being able to “eat, sleep, and pray,” because their refugee status prevents them from applying for local jobs, Sanuar and some others say they are relatively content in their present situation.

“My husband says it is much better here because Acehnese are good people. They welcome us very well,” Sanuar, 20, told BenarNews.

Although she had the opportunity to try to leave Aceh and travel with two older sisters to Malaysia – a prime destination in Southeast Asia for Rohingyas – Sanuar said she turned down the offer because she was pregnant at the time. She has since given birth to a baby boy, Muhammad Nasrullah.

Sanuar and the others were part of a mass exodus by sea that saw more than 3,000 undocumented Rohingyas from Myanmar and migrants from Bangladesh come ashore during an irregular migration crisis that hit Southeast Asia in May 2015, and was precipitated by a Thai crackdown on human trafficking and a Thai maritime blockade on smugglers’ boats.

The residents at Bayeun were so-called “Green Boat” passengers rescued by Acehnese fishermen in the Strait of Malacca on May 20, 2015, after the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia refused to allow their vessel to land.

As many as 434 passengers were rescued in that incident, including dozens of Bangladeshi migrants. Now some100 Rohingya refugees are left at the camp in Bayeun. Since May 2015, more than 800 Bangladeshis and Rohingyas have been repatriated in three batches, according to local officials.

The camp is housed in an abandoned paper mill. The refugees live there and are supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) through aid from Japan, the United States and European Union.

Many of the Rohingyas are children who have learned to speak Indonesian fluently. Some of the grown-up residents have married other inmates and dozens of babies have been born at the camps across Aceh.

“I wish to stay in Aceh forever. But if I was not allowed, I would move to Australia or the United States, according to the IOM. So my wife, five of our children and I can live in peace,” Jamal, a 37-year-old Rohinyga resident of the camp, told BenarNews.

Busy but jobless

But others say they are tired of remaining idle and want jobs so they can earn some money for their families back in Myanmar.

When asked what they had been doing for almost a year in Aceh, some replied in unison, “Here we only sleep, eat, sleep again and pray.”

Many of the other Rohingyas had left the camp in search of jobs in Malaysia, where the average wage for Rohingyas is 50 ringgit (U.S. $12.70) per month, Jamal said.

Like countless Rohingyas, Jamal escaped from Myanmar where members of the Muslim minority flee religious persecution and are treated as second-class citizens.

“I was a cook in a hotel. When the riots occurred, I was beaten up. They fired me after that and I lost my job,” he told Benar, referring to riots in his home state of Rakhine in 2012.

Jamal stands out from his fellow inmates at the camp. He keeps up his dignity by wearing a suit every day, along with a pair of donated shoes.

“I have to save my money. I bought their belongings provided by IOM and I sold them to a nearby market. I have five kids and a wife to feed,” he said.

To kill their boredom while being jobless, other residents spend their time at the camp planting vegetables and raising chickens.

Others take English and Arabic classes, as well as learn other skills.

rohingya-reading.jpgRohingyas learn English from textbooks at the camp in Bayeun, March 27, 2016. (Nurdin Hasan/BenarNews)

“We bought the vegetables planted in their garden, and feed them from their own garden. So they can earn a small amount of money. If they can harvest abundantly, we help them sell it in the market,” said Usman A. Rahman, a local government official who is in charge of the camp in Bayeun.

The local government has been working together with IOM and the U.N. refugee agency to train the camp’s residents in various skills, he said. For example, the women have been taking sewing classes.

“We hope that when someday they move to other countries, they have already mastered some skills to easily get jobs,” Usman told BenarNews, noting that the Indonesian government’s policy did not allow refugees to obtain jobs in the country.

‘All I can do now is pray’

Some of the Rohingyas were arrested in North Sumatra after escaping from the refugee camps and while trying to leave for Malaysia.

They were eventually returned to the camps in Aceh.

These include Asia Hatu, 23, and her son Muhammad Harun, 6.

“I wanted to leave because my husband is in Malaysia. But now I give up. I don’t want to run away anymore,” she told BenarNews. “All I can do now is pray. I just hope that one day there is a miracle that will reunite me with my husband.”

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