Rohingya refugees at Kuala Idi Rayeuk in East Aceh, Aceh. (Antara Photo/Syifa Yulinnas)

Uncertainties at Home Put Repatriation on Hold for Rohingya Refugees: Myanmar Ambassador


FEBRUARY 14, 2020

Jakarta. The plan to repatriate hundreds of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's Rakhine State who have been stranded in Indonesia since 2017 has stalled due to continued uncertain circumstances at home, Myanmar Ambassador to Indonesia Ei Ei Khin Aye said after meeting the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud M.D. on Thursday. 

"The minister asked me about the current situation in the Rakhine State and how the repatriation is going to be organized," Aye said after the meeting in Jakarta.

Hundreds of Rohingya people from the Muslim-majority region in Myanmar have fled to Indonesia since 2017 when violent clashes broke out between the Rohingyas, the Myanmar military and the local Hindu and Buddhist populations. 

Aye said the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees had been put on hold due to the still-uncertain conditions they would be likely to face on their return.

"They still haven't been repatriated because the conditions back at home are still uncertain," Aye said.

She said the Myanmar government is continuing efforts to start the repatriation process immediately, with a main focus to create a "conducive environment" for the displaced Rohingyas.

"The Myanmar government will continue to talk to our displaced people in Cox's Bazar [a port city in Bangladesh where many Rohingya refugees have fled to]. We've explained to them that we want to create a conducive environment for when they come back," Aye said, adding she was optimistic the repatriation would eventually take place.

The ambassador also discussed with Indonesia's chief security minister other options to solve the repatriation problem. 

Mahfud said other Southeast Asian countries have also expressed concerns with the continuing Rohingya refugee crisis.

"Almost all the Asean member countries at the Asean Summit [in Bangkok in November] raised questions and expressed concerns about the fate of the Rohingyas. I asked the ambassador what the real situation is like on the ground, and what she told me matched the statements she had already given to the media," Mahfud said.

Rohingya Refugees

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the exodus of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar started in the 1990s. Their numbers jumped significantly in 2017 after a military crackdown in the Rakhine State in August.

More than 900,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, over 742,000 arriving after 2017. Most of them are now based in Cox's Bazar.

The Rohingya refugees have also fled to Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, India, the United States and Indonesia.

According to data from UNHCR Indonesia, there are 682 registered Rohingya refugees in the country. 

The Indonesian government has made several attempts to help the Rohingya refugees and continued to push for their repatriation.  

In December, Indonesia completed the construction of a hospital in the Mrauk U district in Rakhine State and handed it over to the Myanmar government.

Later that month, Indonesia also provided Rp 7.5 billion ($536,000) in funding through Asean to help repatriating the Rohingyas to Myanmar.

Internet Restrictions  

Only recently, 29 national and international organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, released a joint statement calling for the Myanmar government to lift "restrictions on mobile internet communications in eight townships in Rakhine State and one township in Chin State."

Myanmar's Transport and Communications Ministry ordered a reinstatement of the restrictions on Feb. 3 after it was lifted on Jun. 21 last year.

A report from a local telecommunications provider said the ministry had referred to "security requirement and public interest" as the reason for their decision.

Cooperation in Counterterrorism

Aye and Mahfud also discussed a plan for a cooperation in counterterrorism in their meeting on Thursday. Aye said knowledge-sharing and technology transfer will form a major part of the partnership. 

"We've already talked about sharing our expertise and joint training, [and about receiving] technological assistance from Indonesia. It hasn't happened yet, but the plan is there already," Aye said.

She said the two countries' foreign affairs ministries will be involved in the next stage of discussion to establish a timeline and details of the plan.