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Asean and Indonesia Must Help With Rohingya Issue

Rohingya refugees are seen in their room at the Training Center House, Krueng Raya, Aceh on April 10, 2013 . (EPA Photo/Hotli Simanjuntak)

Jakarta Globe:
April 14, 2013

As ethnic and religious conflict rages against the Rohingya ethnic group in Myanmar, Indonesia has found itself taking on the role of both mediator and refuge country.

Aleksius Jemadu, dean of Pelita Harapan University (UPH), said that this has now become a cross-border problem that includes Indonesia and must be addressed by Asean.

Aleksius added that the conflict involving the Muslim-majority Rohingya ethnicity in Buddhist-majority Myanmar is a sensitive issue, but Asean must take the lead in solving it. According to the Asean Charter, an important pillar of the Asean community is its inclusiveness of all religions and ethnicities, he added.

“If Indonesia wishes to become a leader in this instance, it must take the initiative,” he said on Saturday.

Since the influx of asylum-seekers has affected Indonesia, this is now a cross-border issue, Aleksius argued.

He added that the killing of asylum-seekers detained in Medan last week was an example of what would continue to happen if Indonesia remains silent on the issue.

The head of the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus, Eva Kusuma Sundari, said on Friday that Indonesia was committed to ending ethnic conflict in Myanmar.

“Indonesia is definitely active in ensuring that reform in Myanmar is progressing well,” Eva said. “Asean is Indonesia’s baby, and Indonesian leadership is significant in Asean.”

She explained that the official policy of the Myanmar government is that the Rohingya are not considered citizens by the Burmese government, and instead are regarded as a colonial import. For that reason, the Rohingya are considered stateless, do not have national identity cards and are treated as immigrants that someday must be returned to Bangladesh.

That problem has been increased by the fact that the Rohingya are also mainly Muslim in a Buddhist majority country. “That became an easy trigger to mobilize hate,” Eva added.

Indonesia has become a layover country for asylum-seekers escaping Myanmar, but the country itself does not have the adequate legal framework to deal with the new arrivals.

Ali Akbar Tanjung from the Human Rights Working Group gave the example that if an asylum-seeker enters Indonesian waters, they must be accompanied to shore, given a health check and humanitarian support. Furthermore, the government will help to determine their refugee status. However, Indonesia does not yet have set rules for the handling of asylum-seekers, he said.

Ali said that the matter of asylum-seekers is dealt with only briefly in the Immigration Law and in the regulations for the Directorate General of Immigration. “What Indonesia needs to do is set some ground rules [about] how asylum seekers are to be handled once they are in Indonesia,” Ali said on Friday.

The regulations, Ali said, can be coordinated with the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration to ensure that the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees are met, such as the right to go to school.

Most important is the issue of resettlement. Until now, asylum-seekers and refugees are held in Indonesia in immigration detention centers meant for foreigners who have committed a criminal offense in relation to immigration laws.

Aside from the need for laws governing the handling of refugees, Indonesia also needs to communicate with nations where they aim to be resettled. For example, there are many refugees who have already received refugee status from the UNHCR, but have yet to be relocated to a third country. They can be waiting for years.

“Our position is that we cannot remain silent here. Indonesia is not the destination country. This must be communicated with other nations intended as the resettlement country,” Ali said.