TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Indonesia was the first country to offer refuge to Rohingyas escaping Myanmar persecutions. Yet the Rohingya, one of the world’s most persecuted, balk at the prospect of resettling in Indonesia.
We, Rohingya, acknowledge that we live comparatively safely in Indonesia, which kindly welcomed us as guests. However, we are stateless and vulnerable. Indonesia doesn’t recognize refugees' rights; we are only allowed to stay because of UNHCR cooperation and under strict conditions. We have no right to work, travel or education; we cannot marry freely and face curfews. Our movements are scrutinized and we are forbidden to drive. Our fundamental human rights are denied; we feel we treated differently from other refugees. Initially, UNHCR refugee processing for Rohingya appears to be faster but then there are no resettlement options.
Australia’s extreme refugee policies are damaging to refugees and set a dangerous precedent. Indonesian policies are also harsh but Indonesia is not the signatory of the UN Declaration on Refugees. We believe the purpose of Australia’s cruel treatment of Rohingya is determent, and it bears responsibility for the refugees in Indonesia as boat turnbacks have relocated refugees illegally in Indonesia. The UN Declaration on refugees explicitly forbids ‘refoulement’ and punitive policies.
In 2014, despite stating they will accept UNHCR-recognised refugees in Indonesia before 20 July 2014, Australia did not consider any Rohingyas. We claim the UN selection system discriminates because it has internalized Australia’s intransigence in border control. Australia denies its human rights obligations during a world refugee crisis, and the UNHCR acquiesces.
Our dealings with the UNHCR have confirmed this: they have blocked resettlement for Rohingyas, not only to Australia but to all countries. The Straits Time (28 May 2015) reported that New Zealand was willing to take Rohingya refugees; al Jazeera (2 November 2017) said the same about Canada; the Jakarta Post (2 November 2017) confirmed the US also offered places for refugees from Indonesia, as did other countries, clearly demonstrating that Rohingya refugees could be resettled. However, all offers were rejected and most Rohingya have remained in Indonesia for the past six to ten years. Numbers matter and should be considered: UNHCR latest statistics reveal approximately 2,970 refugees are in Indonesia, 600 of them Rohingya. A third of them are in Makassar, the remainder in other cities. Few UNHCR-recognised refugees have remained unsettled as long as the Rohingya; most Afghanis and Somalis registered at the same time as Rohingyas have been resettled.
The Australian government uses refugees in domestic politics to appease hardliners obsessed with ‘protecting the border’. Cynically, they hope desperate refugees will return to human traffickers, confirming the critical need for harsh policies; the opposition seems to agree. Analysis of Australian elections reveals that whilst punishment of refugees and racist innuendos may help at the ballot box, the cost is great. Harsh policies divide the local population, dehumanize refugees and victimize the victims further, especially the Rohingya.
We claim that Australia’s discriminatory policies offend international law and are a crime against humanity, (ie retrospective laws barring people from resettlement and boat turnbacks which traffick humans illegally are forbidden to signatories of the UN refugee declaration. Why doesn’t Australia entrust all refugees to the UNHCR without prejudice?
Australia, wealthy and influential, act ethically and be a force for the good, but refuses to do so. Its stance on border control has affected Rohingyas’ options for resettlement but we continue to search for safety even if not in Australia.
Expertise and goodwill still exist for refugees, internationally. Rohingyas seek the intervention of the international community to bring a solution to our plight. Tragedies are common in human history: apartheid in South Africa; independence for Timor Leste; ending the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, all needed international community cooperation. Rohingyas need justice and repair for the injustices suffered over generations. We must have a safe and fair place to call our home.
Muhammad Joniad, a Rohingya refugee in Indonesia.