Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged the Indonesian authorities to immediately halt all pushbacks of boats transporting ethnic Rohingya migrants, as well as look into and put an end to any assaults on refugees.
In addition to offering them protection and humanitarian aid and allowing them to disembark at the closest safe port, the authorities must also look into any internet instigation of violence against them, HRW said.
On 27 December 2023, over a hundred students overran police barriers and invaded a car park in Banda Aceh, where 137 Rohingya refugees—the majority of whom were women and children—had been temporarily housed. After verbally and physically abusing the refugees, the students made them get into trucks and drove them to the government office in charge of immigration, where the students asked that the refugees be deported.
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said that “the Indonesian government should ensure that Rohingya boat refugees are immediately brought ashore and protected, not pushed back to die at sea or be attacked by anti-Rohingya mobs.”
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Migrants (UNHCR), eleven Rohingya boats have landed since November, and the migrants have since moved to unofficial locations, primarily in Aceh and one in North Sumatra. Since November, at least 1,700 Rohingya refugees have arrived in the two provinces, with over 70% of them being women and children.
A Rohingya refugee who has been in Aceh since the beginning of 2023 told Human Rights Watch that the gang that attacked on December 27 included his brother, his wife, and their two children.
Recently, anonymous accounts on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter have disseminated false information about Rohingya refugees, risking their safety. In addition, anonymous profiles in Aceh identified local UNHCR employees and disclosed personal information, a practice known as “doxing,” which put them at risk for harassment online and in their field of work. After examining posts from December 2–8, the fact-checking and social media monitoring group Drone Emprit discovered a campaign of hate speech and misleading information directed towards the Rohingya people.
Human Rights Watch said that the Indonesian government has to look into claims of promoting violence against Rohingya refugees immediately and take appropriate measures to hold those involved accountable.
On December 28, at the northernmost part of Aceh, on Weh Island, the Indonesian navy forced a Rohingya boat back out to sea. This was against international law and also Indonesia’s duties under international search and rescue protocols to protect individuals from persecution, torture, and other cruel treatment when they are at sea and to provide asylum when requested. Additionally, Indonesia has a longstanding humanitarian reputation for helping refugees at sea, especially Rohingya, so the opposition was out of character.
Human Rights Watch said that more regional and international collaboration should be shown by Southeast Asian governments in responding to boats carrying Rohingya refugees in peril. This cooperation should include coordinated search-and-rescue efforts and prompt disembarkation at the closest safe port. The governments of Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia should guarantee Rohingya refugees that they have equitable access to asylum processes and that they are not detained indefinitely, kept in unfriendly conditions, or threatened with being sent back to Myanmar under duress.
In 2022, around 3,500 Rohingya made risky attempts to cross the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal by sea, five times more than in the year before. At least 350 of them died or went missing.
The one million Rohingya refugees who have been living in Bangladesh for the past two years have had to deal with rising gang violence, ration cuts, and tightening government restrictions.
“The Rohingya refugees who are arriving in rickety boats should be offered assistance, and the Indonesian authorities should thoroughly investigate who is interfering with this practice,” Robertson said. “Indonesia should not refrain from following other nations in Southeast Asia in repelling Rohingya boats and abandoning these helpless individuals to die by float.”