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Jakarta Post

‘Myanmar is their home’: Retno calls for safe repatriation of Rohingya refugees

  • Dian Septiari
    Dian Septiari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, September 14, 2020   /   09:11 am
‘Myanmar is their home’: Retno calls for safe repatriation of Rohingya refugees Rohingya women wait for medical check-ups at a transit camp in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, on Sept. 9, after nearly 300 Rohingya migrants came ashore nearby. (AFP/Rahmat Mirza)

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has expressed the government’s concern about the increasing number of Rohingya refugees arriving on Indonesia’s shores, calling on other countries in the region to share responsibility for addressing the core issues that led to the crisis.

“In the last two months, Indonesia received almost 400 boat people of Rohingya ethnicity. […] Myanmar is their home, so a voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation should be continuously pursued,” Retno said at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on Saturday.

Indonesia has rescued and taken in 395 Rohingya people who were adrift at sea on cramped boats. The first group was rescued by fishermen in Aceh on June 24, and the second arrived on Sept. 7.

Of the 296 refugees in the second group, 105 are men and 191 are women. They are mostly under 18.

“Based on preliminary information, we have found that they came from a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, 119 of them claiming to have refugee status from the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]. This will be verified directly by UNHCR Indonesia,” Retno said.

She reiterated that Indonesia’s decision to temporarily accommodate the refugees was based on humanity and overcoming the emergency situation. The refugees had been adrift at sea for seven months, after being pushed away by other countries.

Read also: Rohingya refugees rejected everywhere as countries grapple with COVID-19 concerns

“We also received reports that there were three refugees who died [after being rescued]. Presumably due to fatigue, beriberi [thiamine deficiency] and weakened bodily conditions as a result of long sea voyages,” Retno said, adding that health authorities had found no evidence that the three deceased refugees had suffered from COVID-19.

The refugee crisis was one of a number of issues discussed at the ARF, which ended on Saturday. Other issues included the tension in the South China Sea and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Indonesia has raised the Rohingya refugee issue not only at the ARF but also in many other ASEAN meetings hosted virtually by Vietnam.

Read also: Indonesia appeals for end to Rohingya crisis

“I have reiterated to the Myanmar government […the need] to resolve this problem from its roots and have urged concrete action […] through safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable repatriation to their place of origin in Rakhine State,” Retno said.

“We also urge […] responsibility sharing, especially among countries party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, international organizations and NGOs that are concerned with this issue, to contribute significantly to dealing with refugees in transit countries such as Indonesia,” she said, echoing the opinion of Malaysian counterpart Hishammuddin Hussein.

Hishammuddin lamented that his country continued to bear the brunt of the spillover effects from the prolonged crisis in Rakhine, Myanmar.

He also said Malaysia could not take in any more Rohingya refugees because its resources had been stretched by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Yet Malaysia is unfairly expected to do more to accommodate incoming refugees, with added pressure from humanitarian groups,” he said.

Read also: UN calls out failure of Bali Process to save refugees

Some 177,920 refugees and asylum-seekers are registered with the UNHCR in Malaysia, and 153,190 of them are from Myanmar, consisting of 101,320 Rohingyas, 22,510 members of the Chin ethnic group and 29,350 people from other ethnic groups.

As of July, 13,653 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia, but most of them were from Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq.

“Malaysia reaffirms the need for proportionate burden and responsibility sharing and calls for the signatory countries of the 1951 Convention to uphold and stand committed to their international legal obligations to receive more refugees for resettlement or relocation,” Hishammuddin said.