A brawl between two groups of Myanmar illegal immigrants of different faiths has led to the deaths of eight Buddhist fishermen at an immigration detention center in Belawan, near Medan, North Sumatra, over alleged sexual harassment of a female Muslim refugee.
The eight fishermen were Aung Thu Win, 24, Aung Than, 44, Min-Min, 24, Win Tun, 32, Nawe, 23, Aye, 23, Myo, 20, and Sam Iwin, 45. Their bodies have been brought to the Pirngadi General Hospital in Medan for autopsy.
The nearly three-hour brawl also injured 21 Muslim refugees of the Rohingya ethnic group.
Witnesses said that the brawl among Myanmar people started at about 1 a.m. when the Buddhist fishermen allegedly sexually harassed a female Rohingya refugee.
Muhammad Alam, 23, one of the Rohingya refugees, said that prior to the brawl, a number of Buddhist illegal fishermen followed a female Rohingya going to the bathroom. The fishermen suddenly started to sexually harass the female refugee.
Several Rohingya refugees who witnessed the harassment reported the case to the others, inciting the anger of all the Rohingyas detained at the Immigration Detention Center (Rudenim) in Belawan.
The refugees spontaneously attacked the illegal fishermen.
“It was their third sexual harassment against our female refugees. It is just normal if the Rohingyas were furious and beat them,” Alam told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
“Luckily, three of them managed to escape but eight of them were killed.”
Alam said initially there were 50 Myanmar illegal fishermen in the detention center but most of them had been transported to temporary shelters in Medan.
Most of the fishermen, he said, were arrested for catching fish in Indonesian waters without proper documents.
“We, the Rohingyas, were arrested because we entered Indonesia illegally looking for asylum,” said Alam.
Deputy Law and Human Rights Minister Denny Indrayana regretted the brawl.
He offered his condolences and on behalf of the government offered an apology for the incident.
Denny said that detention center officers had tried to handle the brawl but were overpowered by the clashing illegal immigrants.
“Currently the Belawan Rudenim houses 480 illegal immigrants but the capacity is only to house 50 people,” he said in Medan on Friday.
“At the same time, we only have five officers in the detention center. That is why it was difficult for our officers to disperse the brawl.”
Denny said the brawl was actually a carry over of a problem from the country of their origin.
Meanwhile, the Belawan Port Police chief of detectives, Adj. Comr. Yudi Prianto, said that so far the police had yet to find the cause of the clash involving the illegal immigrants.
He said initial estimates was the brawl just after midnight was caused by a women’s issue.
“Statements from witnesses said that the brawl was incited by a women’s issue but we are still investigating what the issue was,” he said, adding that so far 21 people had been questioned in relation to the clash.
The Associated Press reported that the clash started after a Muslim Rohingya confronted a Buddhist fisherman about sectarian violence in their homeland. Insults were traded, and people began fighting with rocks and knifes.
The Rohingyas, who are not recognized as a minority group by the Myanmar government, have become the target of attacks launched by the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group.
So far, there has been no permanent solution by the Myanmar government, forcing the Rohingyas to flee to seek asylum in other countries.
The Rohingyas initially wanted to enter nearby Thailand and Malaysia by boat but were driven out by the authorities there to the open sea and were intercepted when they entered Indonesian waters. Bangladesh has also rejected Rohingya refugees from entering the country despite shared culture and history.
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