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Students call on Indonesian government to clamp down on refugee arrivals

Protesters burn tires during a protest rejecting Rohingya refugees in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, Dec. 27 (Reza Saifullah/AP)
Protesters burn tires during a protest rejecting Rohingya refugees in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, Dec. 27 (Reza Saifullah/AP)

Student protesters have taken to the streets of Indonesia, burning tyres on the doorstep of Aceh’s provincial parliament, to urge the government to clamp down on illegal Rohingya migrant boat arrivals.

More than 1,500 migrants, who fled violent attacks in Myanmar and overcrowded refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh, have arrived on the Sumatran island since early November.

The growing number of illegal arrivals has prompted unrest in Aceh as locals feel refugees will trigger social and economic upheaval within their community.

Rohingya refugees have experienced hostility at the hands of the Indonesian locals.

Migration Indonesia Rohingya
Rohingya refugees were relocated from their temporary shelter in the basement of a community hall following a protest rejecting them in Banda Aceh (Reza Saifullah/AP).

The crowd of 200 or so university students rallied outside the parliamentary building in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, burning tyres and chanting: “Get out Rohingya.”

Protest organiser Teuku Wariza said: “We urged the parliament speaker to immediately take firm action to remove all Rohingya refugees from Aceh.”

Some protesters also criticised United Nations refugee agency UNHCR for failing to manage arrivals of Rohingyans by boat to Sumatra.

The agency said, in a statement released late Wednesday: “UNHCR reminds everyone that desperate refugee children, women and men seeking shelter in Indonesia are victims of persecution and conflict, and are survivors of deadly sea journeys.”

The UNHCR also called on local authorities to act to protect refugees and the community’s humanitarian workers.

Migration Indonesia Rohingya
Ethnic Rohingya women and children were forced to board a truck as they are being relocated from their temporary shelter in Aceh (Reza Saifullah/AP)

Indonesia tolerated the refugees while Thailand and Malaysia pushed them away, but the growing hostility of some Indonesians toward the Rohingya has put pressure on President Joko Widodo’s government to take action.

Mr Widodo earlier this month said the government suspected a surge in human trafficking to the increase in Rohingya arrivals.

Unrest in Aceh comes as concerns grow about the human trafficking of Rohingya refugees.

About 740,000 Rohingya were resettled in Bangladesh after fleeing their homes in Myanmar to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign carried out in 2017 by security forces. Accusations of mass rape, murder, and the burning of entire villages are well documented, and international courts are considering whether Myanmar authorities committed genocide and other grave human rights abuses.

Efforts to repatriate the Rohingya have failed because of doubts their safety can be assured. The Rohingya are denied mainly citizenship rights in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and face widespread social discrimination.