Indonesian Students Storm Convention Center, Demand Deportation of Rohingya Refugees
Indonesian Students Storm Convention Center, Demand Deportation of Rohingya Refugees

Jakarta: On December 27, 2023, a large group of Indonesian students stormed a convention center in the city of Banda Aceh, where hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar were housed, demanding their deportation, as shown in footage from an international media agency. A city police spokesperson in Banda Aceh did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The video footage depicted numerous students, wearing green jackets, rushing into a large basement space where crowds of Rohingya men, women, and children were seated on the floor, visibly distressed. The Rohingya individuals were then led out, some carrying their belongings in plastic sacks, and transported to trucks while the protestors observed.

A total of 200 students protested in front of the provincial parliament in Banda Aceh, urging lawmakers to turn away the Rohingya refugees, claiming their presence would cause social and economic upheaval in the community. The protestors chanted, "Get away, Rohingyas," and criticized the government and the UN Refugee Agency for their handling of the refugee arrivals. Some protestors even burnt tires on the streets.

Teuku Wariza, one of the protest organizers, stated, "We urged the parliament speaker to immediately take action to remove the Rohingyas from Aceh." Upon reaching the refugee camp, the protestors discarded the clothes and belongings of the refugees, compelling the authorities to relocate them to another place.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNRA) expressed deep disturbance over the mob attack on a site sheltering vulnerable refugee families, the majority being children and women, and called for better protection. The mob forcefully broke the police cordon, placed 137 Rohingya refugees on trucks, and moved them to another location in Banda Aceh. The incident left refugees shocked and traumatized.

The United Nations Human Rights Agency reminded everyone that desperate refugees, including children and women seeking shelter in Indonesia, are victims of persecution and conflict, survivors of deadly sea journeys.

While Indonesia had previously tolerated refugees, the growing hostility of some Indonesians towards Rohingyas has pressured President Joko Widodo's government to take action. President Joko Widodo blamed the recent surge in arrivals on human trafficking and pledged to work with international organizations to offer temporary shelter.

Rohingya refugees have faced increasing hostility and rejection in Indonesia as locals grow frustrated with the number of boats arriving with the ethnic minority, who face severe persecution in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar. On November 17, 2023, 250 Rohingya refugees were deported back to Myanmar.

During an earlier protest rally on December 27, 2023, Wariza Anis Munandar, a 23-year-old student in Banda Aceh, called for the deportation of the Rohingyas, while another student, 20-year-old Della Masrida, said, "They came here uninvited, and they feel like this is their country."

Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees but has a history of accepting refugees when they arrive. For years, Rohingyas have left Myanmar, where they were considered foreign interlopers, denied citizenship, and subjected to verbal and physical abuse.

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