Indonesia Accepts Rohingya Refugees Leaving Bangladesh

The National Refugee Task Force of Indonesia announced it would allow Rohingya refugees to stay in the country on December 10th, 2023. The Rohingya people are from Myanmar, but the government does not allow the Rohingya to be citizens of the country, and thousands of Rohingya have been killed in a genocide since 2017.  After the genocide began, most Rohingya refugees went to Bangladesh.  However, some Rohingya refugees have left Bangladesh, and Reuters reported 1,200 Rohingya arrived in Indonesia during November 2023. Indonesia’s decision to accept Rohingya refugees will be helpful, but other countries need to accept refugees and give aid to the United Nation’s fund for Rohingya refugees.

Conflicts between the Rohingya and other people in Myanmar have existed for a long time. The Rohingya are mostly Muslims, while most of Myanmar’s population is Buddhist. Conflicts worsened in 2017 when Attullah Abu Ammar Jununi founded the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (A.R.S.A.), and the group attacked a number of police officers. After the attacks, Myanmar’s military destroyed a number of Rohingya villages while looking for members of the A.R.S.A. According to a report from the United Nations, it is likely more than 10,000 Rohingya were killed by the military in 2018, and over one million Rohingya have left Myanmar. However, most Rohingya oppose the A.R.S.A., and there had been few attacks before the group was created.

Most Rohingya in Bangladesh live in the Kutupalong and Nayapara Refugee Camps. When the Rohingya genocide began, the camps had enough resources for the refugees, but they have since become overcrowded, and no longer have enough food or shelters for all the refugees. In addition to the overcrowding of the camps, Bangladesh is also receiving less aid than in the past. According to Radio Free Asia, a fund created by the United Nations to provide assistance to refugees only received 42% of the money it needed for 2023. A large amount aid for the Rohingya has come the United States and the European Union, but both have given the Rohingya less aid in recent years. The decrease in aid for the Rohingya has been caused by other crises, as aid has been needed to help refugees leaving Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover of the county, and for the war in Ukraine. Due to refugee camps in Bangladesh being overcrowded and having few resources, there has been an increase in refugees moving from Bangladesh to other countries, including Indonesia.

Since 2022, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has wanted Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, and the government of Bangladesh has worked with the government of Myanmar to make plans for the repatriation of refugees. However, many Rohingya refugees are concerned the genocide will continue, and have refused to return to Myanmar until they are given citizenship and other rights.  Despite Bangladesh wanting the Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar, the Human Rights Watch reported the refugees have not been forced to leave. However, Bangladesh has not improved the conditions of the refugee camps, possibly because it hopes the bad conditions of the camps will cause the Rohingya to decide to return to Myanmar.

China has also been supportive of the repatriation of refugees, and has given aid to rebuild Rohingya villages and houses that were destroyed by Myanmar’s military. However, giving aid to the Rohingya has not been enough to convince them to return to Myanmar. In order for China to be effective in getting the Rohingya to return, it would need to encourage Myanmar to end its human rights abuses against the group. However, the Wilson Center reported it is unlikely the Chinese government will criticize Myanmar for its treatment of the Rohingya, as it has also committed human rights abuses, including the detainment of the Uyghur people in re-education facilities.

Although Rohingya refugees have gone to other countries besides Bangladesh, some countries have been less supportive of helping refugees. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, Malaysia and Thailand have the most refugees after Bangladesh with around 100,000 in each country. However, there has been opposition to allowing refugees to stay in both countries, and some have been deported back to Myanmar. If other countries accepted refugees, it would be helpful for Bangladesh as it could decrease overcrowding in the country’s refugee camps. Although Indonesia has been more supportive of accepting refugees than Malaysia and Thailand, there are concerns too many refugees will come to the country. ABC News reported that Muhammad Iqbal, a spokesperson for Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, wanted other countries to accept refugees and said, “The international community should show more responsibility in efforts to resolve the Rohingya refugee problem.”

Countries that agree to accept Rohingya refugees should consider creating a resettlement program.  According to the Asia Displacement Solutions Platform, a resettlement program could help determine the number of refugees sent to each county in the program, and make sure each country receives aid to help provide food and shelters for the refugees. A resettlement program should also make sure that refugees can travel safely to the resettlement countries. It often takes several weeks for refugees to sail from Bangladesh to Indonesia, and some refugees have died while traveling between the two countries. Another problem in Bangladesh is that most refugees are not allowed to have jobs outside the camps. Countries that accept Rohingya refugees should let refugees work, as this would allow them to earn money and be less dependent on aid.

It is likely that most countries in a resettlement program would be in the Asia-Pacific region, and the Association of South East Asian Nations (A.S.E.A.N.) could be involved in the creation of a resettlement program. Myanmar is an A.S.E.A.N. member, and there are a number of countries in the organization that could accept refugees including Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Malaysia and Thailand are also members of A.S.E.A.N., and the organization could try to increase support for accepting refugees in those countries. Since the Rohingya genocide began, A.S.E.A.N. has been criticized for not opposing Myanmar’s human rights abuses against the Rohingya. However, the Journal of International Studies reported there is little A.S.E.A.N. can do to oppose  Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya, since the organization supports the principle of not interfering in the affairs of any member country. Despite the non-interference principle, A.S.E.A.N. does have an Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights that works to protect human rights in member countries. It is possible the Commission can support the creation of a resettlement program, even if A.S.E.A.N. cannot oppose policies made by the government of Myanmar.

There are some countries that are not A.S.E.A.N. members that could also be part of a resettlement program, including Australia and New Zealand. Currently, there are a small number of Rohingya refugees in each country, but the South China Morning Post reported that polls showed there was support for allowing more Rohingya to settle in both countries.

Due to the United States and the European Union giving less aid for the Rohingya refugees, the United Nations has tried to increase aid from other countries. According to Arab News, the United Nations has wanted members of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (O.I.C.), which includes 57 countries, to increase aid to the Rohingya. The O.I.C. works to promote the interests of Muslims, and has tried to create peace in a number of conflicts. One member of the O.I.C. that has given a lot of aid to the Rohingya is the United Arab Emirates, which Gulf News reported gave 65 million Dirhams to provide health care and housing for the refugees. Several O.I.C. members, including the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia, are some of the richest countries in the world due to having large oil reserves, and would likely be able to give more money to the United Nation’s fund for the refugees.

The government of Myanmar has committed many human rights abuses against the Rohingya, and it is unlikely the Rohingya will be given citizenship and other rights soon. Until the Rohingya are given more rights in Myanmar, no refugees should be deported as it will not be safe for them to return to Myanmar. Other countries need to accept Rohingya refugees as the refugee camps in Bangladesh are overcrowded and have few resources. The creation of a resettlement program would likely be the best way to solve the refugee crisis as it would allow refugees to be safely be sent to other countries.


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