THE BLOG

Rohingyas in Indonesia: Stories from the Ground

02/06/2015 16:13 BST | Updated 27/05/2016 10:59 BST

In the past week, I have been in communication with several journalists, aid workers, as well as ordinary citizens in Indonesia concerning the current situation of the Rohingya community over there. There are several matters that they have informed me that are worth letting the world know about.

Bilal Abdul Kareem, an American journalist who is now reporting from the Indonesian province of Aceh, notes two significant things that are apparent among Rohingyas in Indonesia. One is that most of these people have absolutely no intention to return to Myanmar and would rather die there than facing the horrendous oppression back home. This gives us a clear indication as to what these people have been going through in recent years. Secondly, Kareem also reports that there are sufficient evidence to say that these individuals were oppressed and subjugated for no other reason than their religion. According to Kareem, these people are very proud of their faith and are content in being able to practice their religion in the refugee camps despite the unfavourable conditions that they are in.

What I heard the most is that many of these people seem traumatised. Despite functionally going about their daily lives, there are tell-tale signs that they have undergone traumatic experiences. According to Kareem, when aid workers show up to distribute aid and they are called to line to receive it, they would do so nearly as if they were in a bit of a haze. They were somewhat indifferent about whether they received anything nor what was being received.

Several humanitarian organisations that I have been in contact with also stated that the current level of the humanitarian assistance being offered is grim; far too insufficient to cover the increasing number of refugees. Basic necessities from food, medicine, and clothing to water tanks are still needed. Even though there are several aid organisations that have been working tirelessly, there is a need to increase the quantity and pace of delivery of this aid.

I have also received reports regarding a number of children who are now living in refugee camps without having their parents or guardians with them. An Indonesian non-profit organisation Act for Humanity reports that there are around 170 children living without their parents at the Bayeun camp. It is difficult to imagine what these children are going through, emotionally and physically; having to live in a strange country alone while at the same time being susceptible to starvation and disease.

The good news is that there is a huge feeling of empathy among the Indonesian population towards the Rohingya community. Syuhelmaidi Syukur of Act for Humanity says that the response from the Indonesian people is marvellous. They are very determined to help. According to Syukur, the number of people who are willing to help continues to increase.

Unfortunately, many of these important stories have gone unreported by mainstream media. It is up to them to keep reporting on the Rohingya issue. But it is difficult to ignore that it was only worldwide embarrassment that pressured Myanmar's neighboring governments to finally accept these oppressed individuals into their countries. Initially, it was an ordinary fisherman from Aceh who rescued these people to the shore and only common Indonesians who cared for them, not the Indonesian authorities. Were it not because of worldwide coverage I cannot help but imagine that these people would have remained floating in the ocean until today.

All these reports clearly indicate that the Rohingya community is in dire need of a real and serious solution to end their suffering. This not only applies to Rohingyas who have become refugees in the neighboring countries but also those who continue to face oppression in Myanmar. What I am referring to here is not just short-term solutions such as building temporary shelters and providing basic aid, but also the need for long-term solutions. Offering humanitarian assistance would not help in tackling the root cause of the problem. It is far-fetched to expect that the Rohingyas will continue to live in Indonesia and other neighboring states as these countries are also faced with a countless number of domestic issues. These people cannot live as refugees forever. They need a new start, soft skills, and more importantly the children are in need of sound education. At the same time, oppression against the Rohingyas within Myanmar continues at this moment as I type and there are still thousands of individuals adrift in vessels without sufficient fuel, water, and food. We cannot allow more people to suffer and die perpetually. It is also unreasonable to expect other countries to endlessly accept more people into their territories.

The international community must realise that the only solution to end the suffering of the Rohingyas lies with the Myanmar government. We must pressure them to end the atrocities that they are committing towards these people. The Rohingya minority must be allowed to return to their country and live peacefully in the place that they call home.