5 Rohingya Refugee Boats Spotted Near Indonesian Coast

On Thursday, officials from Aceh province in Indonesia said that they had seen five boats crammed with migrants making their way to the coast.

These boats are only the most recent in a long line of ships that have recently docked in Aceh, with the majority of passengers being Rohingya Muslims who escaped persecution in Burma in 2017 after military assaults. They are now residing in southern Bangladesh.

The surge in Rohingya refugee arrivals since November prompted Indonesia to step up its maritime patrols, according to Col. Yoyon Kuscahyono, commander of Aceh Air Force Base. According to him, on Wednesday, Indonesian coast guards saw five boats that were presumably transporting Rohingya migrants. Police in north Aceh province saw them crossing into East Aceh, Lhokseumawe, Aceh Besar, Pidie, and Sabang.

More than 1,500 Rohingya migrants have reached Indonesian coasts since November, prompting a plea for international assistance on December 12.

Nearly 90% of Indonesia’s 277 million people identify as Muslims, and the country used to welcome such arrivals, while neighboring Malaysia and Thailand rejected them. However, in 2023, anti-Rohingya sentiment has surged, particularly in Aceh, which is located in northern Sumatra and where the majority of Rohingya land. Locals have pushed Rohingya boats away and accused them of being a nuisance and destructive behavior.

Pressure mounts on President Joko Widodo’s administration to do something.

Like Malaysia and Thailand, Indonesia is not legally obligated to admit refugees since it is not a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that outlines its legal safeguards. But thus far, every one of them has offered migrants in need a place to stay, if only temporarily.

After escaping a deadly counterinsurgency war in neighboring Burma in 2017, some 740,000 Rohingya were relocated to Bangladesh. International tribunals are examining whether the Burmese government perpetrated genocide and other serious human rights violations; there is ample evidence of widespread rape, murder, and the destruction of whole towns.

Most refugees who leave by water want to find employment in Muslim-dominated Malaysia, east of Aceh, across the Malacca Strait.