Indonesian students protest growing numbers of Rohingya refugees

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Students in Indonesia’s Aceh province rallied on Wednesday demanding the government drive away Rohingya refugees arriving by boat in growing numbers as police named more suspects of human trafficking. Over 1,500 Rohingya, who fled violent attacks in Myanmar and now are leaving camps in neighboring Bangladesh in search of better lives, have arrived in Aceh off the tip of Sumatra since November. They have faced some hostility from fellow Muslims in Aceh. About 200 students protested in front of the provincial parliament in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, to call on lawmakers to reject Rohingya refugees, saying their presence would bring social and economic upheaval in the community.

Protesters burn tires during a protest rejecting Rohingya refugees in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia, Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2023. (AP)

The protesters chanted “Get out Rohingya!” and criticized the government and the U.N. refugee agency for failing to manage the refugee arrivals. Some protesters burned tires on the street. “We urged the parliament speaker to immediately take firm action to remove all Rohingya refugees from Aceh,” said Teuku Wariza, a protest organizer. The protesters marched to a local community hall in Banda Aceh, where about 135 Rohingya were taking shelter. The demonstrators threw out clothes and household items belonging to the refugees, forcing authorities to relocate them to another shelter. Indonesia had once tolerated the refugees while Thailand and Malaysia pushed them away.

But the growing hostility of some Indonesians toward the Rohingya has put pressure on President Joko Widodo’s government to take action. Widodo earlier this month said the government suspected a surge in human trafficking to the increase in Rohingya arrivals. Police in Banda Aceh on Wednesday named two more suspected human smugglers from Bangladesh and Myanmar following the arrival of one boat of refugees on Dec. 10. One of them, the captain, himself a refugee, was charged with trafficking. (AP)

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