Rohingya Muslims in Indonesia struggle to find shelter. President says government will help for now

     His face showed exhaustion, restlessness, and confusion. It has been more than 36 hours since Muhammad Amin landed in Indonesia. He arrived in a wooden boat with 136 other Rohingya Muslims who left their refugee camp in Bangladesh. Their boat had been at sea for nearly 1 1/2 months, with no water or food for days.

    Amin, 27, wore a Paris Saint-Germain soccer jersey that bore the marks of being worn for days. He, together with his wife, his children and hundreds of other Rohingya refugees tried to get some rest as they waited at a skateboard park in the city of Banda Aceh, next to the governor’s office. They have been relocated five times in less than two days and are yet to find shelter.

    Two boats carrying two groups of more than 300 Rohingya Muslims, including emaciated women and children, reached Indonesia’s northernmost Aceh province on Sunday. A third boat, carrying more refugees, remains missing. The U.N. refugee agency warned that people onboard could die if more is not done to rescue them.

    Amin and his family had left the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

    “It was not safe at the camp in Bangladesh,” he said while holding his two daughters to calm them down. “We, the Rohingya men, had to keep on guard every night. We couldn’t sleep.” Amin said that they were shot at, and one night a couple of Rohingya refugees got killed.

    About 740,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to camps in Bangladesh since August 2017, following a brutal counterinsurgency campaign. Myanmar security forces have been accused of mass rapes, killings and the burning of thousands of Rohingya homes, and international courts are considering whether their actions constitute genocide.

    The refugees have been trying to find shelter in other countries including Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia.

    After their boat docked at Lamreh, Amin and the other Rohingya refugees saw the locals were unwelcoming.

    On Sunday evening, residents loaded the Rohingya in four trucks and took them to the place near the governor’s office, about 1 1/2 hours from where they landed.

    When they arrived, police officers drove them for another hour to a scout camp in Pidie regency, only for residents there to block the camp’s entrance and deny them entry. Authorities escorted them to a convention center run by the Ministry of Social Affairs, but locals still wouldn’t allow them to stay.

    Finally, the refugees were driven back to where the governor’s office was located. They stayed overnight in a convention hall complex in Banda Aceh city owned by the government.

    Shahidul Islam, 34, arrived with Amin. He said they came to Indonesia after seeing some Rohyinga, including his relatives, safely arriving in the Southeast Asian country.

    “I came here to reunite with my family. But now they are not allowing us in. So many people are sick, more than before” Islam said. He added that he is looking for a better life and asked the Indonesian government to help.

    Since November, more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees have arrived by boat in Indonesia’s Aceh province. Some were denied landing by the residents in Aceh Utara district and Sabang island, sparking concerns from human rights organizations.

    Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo on Monday said that the Indonesian government will still help the refugees temporarily.

    “For now we will accommodate them, temporarily. We are still talking to international organizations, such as UNHCR … since the locals don’t accept them,” Widodo told reporters in Jakarta.

    Ann Maymann, a UNHCR official who was in Banda Aceh, told reporters Sunday that Rohingya refugees needed a safe place with help from Indonesia’s government.

    “It is the government that should decide (where refugees should stay). That is their authority. And when they decide, it will work. So I am sure we can manage this,” Maymann said.

    Indonesia’s government suspected a surge in human trafficking because of the growing number of Rohingya Muslims who entered the country over the past few weeks, especially in Aceh.

    Most of the refugees leaving by sea attempt to reach Muslim-majority Malaysia in search of work. Indonesia, where Muslims comprise nearly 90% of the country’s 277 million people, has been detaining them.

    By Nadeem Faisal Baiga