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Indonesia students storm Rohingya refugee center

December 27, 2023

Students chanted "kick them out" while rushing the shelter housing dozens of Rohingya refugees in the Indonesian city of Banda Aceh. The UN said the incident was fueled by an online campaign.

Protesters burn tires during a protest rejecting Rohingya refugees in Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Student protesters stormed a facility housing Rohingya refugees, demanding their deportationImage: picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS

A crowd of Indonesian university students stormed a temporary shelter for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar in the western city of Banda Aceh, demanding their deportation.

The students wore jackets with the insignias of various Indonesian universities. Footage of the incident on Wednesday showed the refugees led out and loaded onto trucks. Some of the resident were carrying their belongings with them in plastic bags.

Rohingya seek a better life in Indonesia

What triggered the incident?

The government-owned hall was housing some 137 Rohingya refugees. Students demanded that the refugees be moved to a local immigration office and then deported.

They chanted "kick them out" and "reject Rohingyas in Aceh," as women and children stood in tears and praying men looked to the ground.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) condemned the incident, which it said was triggered by a coordinated online campaign of misinformation and hate speech.

"The mob broke a police cordon and forcibly put 137 refugees on two trucks, and moved them to another location in Banda Aceh. The incident has left refugees shocked and traumatized," it said.

Why are Rohingya refugees fleeing to Indonesia?

The Rohingya, the Muslim people inhabiting western Myanmar, have been fleeing the Asian country due to facing discrimination and abuse.

They use boats to seek refuge in neighboring Thailand and Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia. Most of them travel between November and April, when the seas are calmer.

UNHCR figures suggest that over 1,500 Rohingya have landed in Indonesia since November, in what is believed to be the biggest number in years. Their arrival has triggered increasing hostility, with locals frustrated with their growing numbers.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has blamed the latest surge in Rohingya arrivals on human trafficking. However, he pledged to offer them temporary shelter, in cooperation with international organizations.

Indonesia: Local voices disapprove of Rohingya boat arrivals

rmt/dj (AFP, Reuters)