By Samuel Miller
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America and Oceania

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesia said on Wednesday it would offer shelter to 7,000 Rohingya refugees adrift at sea, but made clear that their assistance was temporary and would take no more. The Indonesian Government stated, the refugees would stay only as long as it took for the Government to process and document the refugees. More than 3,000 migrants have landed so far this month in Malaysia and Indonesia.

A Rohingya Refugee After Weeks at Sea (Photo Courtesy of NY Times)

Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group fleeing persecution and economic hardship in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The agreement came as fishermen on the Indonesian island of Sumatra rescued at least 370 migrants from sinking ships and brought them ashore. Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya, chief spokesman of the Indonesian military, said migrants saved by fishermen in Indonesia were on several ships rescued separately on Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning off Aceh Province, on the northern tip of Sumatra.

Those migrants who have made it to shore in Indonesia told stories of weeks of horror and brutality at the hands of the traffickers, who extorted them for money, provided little food or water and then abandoned them on the open sea to evade a crackdown on smuggling networks by the government of Thailand.

The U.N. High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) welcomed the decision, saying in a statement that it is “an important initial step in the search for solutions to this issue, and vital for the purpose of saving lives.” The UNHCR went on to say, “It is now urgent for people to be brought ashore without delay. UNHCR agrees with the ministers that further action will be needed. It will need to take into account looking properly at the needs of those in need of international protection.”

The situation, however, is far from resolved. While the migrants from Myanmar may be allowed to apply for asylum in Indonesia, Malaysia or perhaps a third country, experts say those from Bangladesh are mainly economic refugees who are likely to be sent home.

Furthermore, Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya people and has refused to engage in talks where the term is used. Rohingya Muslims are a long-oppressed linguistic and ethnic minority in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country. Most of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions. Almost 140,000 were displaced in clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012.

One issue that was not controversial was human trafficking, which all of the countries involved, including Myanmar, agreed to try to stop.


For more information, please see:

CNN — Indonesia, Malaysia agree to take in migrant ships, report says — 21 May 2015

Bloomberg — Malaysia, Indonesia to Shelter Fleeing Rohingya Temporarily — 20 May 2015

NY Times — Indonesia and Malaysia Agree to Care for Stranded Migrants — 20 May 2015

Reuters — Malaysia, Indonesia to let ‘boat people’ come ashore temporarily — 20 May 2015

Author: Impunity Watch Archive