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Rohingya refugees land in Aceh amid growing concerns of human trafficking networks

Amid the ninth wave of Rohingya arrivals in Aceh, President Jokowi suspects human trafficking involvement, vowing strict action, while UNHCR emphasizes the refugees’ desperate need for protection.

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INDONESIA – Approximately 315 Rohingya refugees have landed in Aceh, with two separate groups arriving at the Blang Raya coastal area in Pidie Regency and the Blang Ulam beach in Aceh Besar Regency on Sunday (10 Dec).

The arrivals, marking the ninth wave since November 2023, have raised concerns about the involvement of human trafficking networks in facilitating the movement of these displaced individuals.

Panglima Laot Aceh, Miftach Tjut Adek, confirmed the arrivals, stating, “Yes, there are two Rohingya boats, one in the Blang Raya area and another in the Blang Ulam area of Aceh Besar.” The refugees reportedly landed at approximately 03:30 AM in Pidie and around 05:30 AM in Aceh Besar.

Despite facing initial rejection from residents in Pidie, the Rohingya persisted and successfully landed.

Rohingya Muslims take a break on the shore upon arriving at Blang Raya in Pidie, Aceh province, Indonesia, on Sunday (10 Dec). (Photo Reuters)

The Chief of Police of Muara Tiga, Pidie Regency, Efendi, reported that approximately 180 Rohingya refugees landed in Pidie. Of this group, 74 were women, 53 were men, 26 were male children, and 27 were female children.

Meanwhile, in Aceh Besar, The Chief of Police Krueng Raya, Rolly Yuiza Away, stated that around 135 refugees arrived, but detailed information about their composition is yet to be obtained.

Describing the challenging conditions of their arrival, Rolly explained that the refugees disembarked about one kilometre offshore and walked to their current location.

This recent influx is part of a broader pattern, with previous waves affecting various regions, including four waves in Pidie, one each in Bireuen and Aceh Timur, two in Kota Sabang, and one in Aceh Besar.

President Joko Widodo expressed deep concern over the escalating number of Rohingya refugees entering Indonesia, particularly in Aceh.

In a virtual press briefing on Friday (8 Dec), 2023, he suggested a strong possibility of the involvement of human trafficking networks in orchestrating this influx and vowed to take stringent action against the perpetrators.

“I received reports about the increasing number of Rohingya refugees entering Indonesian territory, especially in the province of Aceh. There is a strong suspicion of the involvement of human trafficking networks in this refugee flow,” said President Jokowi.

In addition to cracking down on human trafficking, President Jokowi emphasized that the Indonesian government would provide temporary assistance to Rohingya refugees, with a focus on prioritizing the interests of the local community.

“The Indonesian government continues to coordinate with international organizations to address this issue,” he added.

Responding to the President’s statement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia, Mitra Salima Suryono, highlighted the difficult circumstances faced by the Rohingya.

She explained that they often have no choice but to escape perilous conditions in search of safer places, resorting to unofficial means of travel due to the lack of alternatives.

The perilous situation Mitra refers to is the perilous condition in their original location before seeking refuge. Rohingyas, marginalized and unrecognized by any state, lack identification like IDs, passports, or visas.

The Rohingya are not human trafficking perpetrators but victims, reinforcing the argument for their dire need for assistance when entering Indonesia through illegal means. “And because they are victims, it strengthens the argument that they are the ones in need of help,” said Mitra on Saturday (9 Dec).

She stressed the need for protection, especially for the 70% of Rohingya refugees who are women and children. UNHCR Indonesia pledged to cooperate with law enforcement authorities to report any indications of human trafficking or smuggling.

“As we protect refugees, if we find indications of involvement with smugglers, we will always cooperate with authorities to provide information about what we know,” Mitra concluded.

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