By Haeril Halim, Apriadi Gunawan and Andi Hajramurni
Despite tough immigration policies introduced by United States President Donald Trump, American representatives in Medan and Makassar have begun to resettle Rohingya Muslim refugees, giving light to the country’s recently eclipsed image as the world’s beacon of democracy, freedom and tolerance.
The refugees from Myanmar whose boats washed ashore in Aceh two years ago, have passed interviews conducted by the US Consulate in Medan, North Sumatra, with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Juha P. Salin, US Consul for Medan confirmed the transfer of Rohingya refugees to America, adding that the process would be conducted gradually.
“These cases are being processed continually and those who have the approved travel documents can travel to the US,” said Salin.
He refused, however, to confirm the number of Rohingya refugees who had been permitted to resettle in the US.
Trump had ordered a fourmonth hold on allowing refugees into the US and a temporary ban on travelers from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, which he said would protect Americans from violent Islamists.
The executive order has been blocked by the lower courts, but immigration authorities have continued to conduct raids across major cities in America.
The Ambassador to Indonesia Joseph R. Donovan has reassured Indonesia that the executive order will not affect the American value of religious tolerance.
“Both Americans and Indonesians are very tolerant people at their core and I believe that these values that we share, the importance of tolerance and respect for religious beliefs, particularly other people’s religious beliefs, are the kind of values that will prevail in both of our societies,” Donovan said earlier.
The resettlement process for Rohingya refugees in Indonesia began in November after the US Consulate in Medan started to interview the 184 Rohingya Muslims, stranded in Aceh.
The process, however, did not involve Rohingya refugees stranded in Medan for a longer period of time.
About 800 Rohingyas are currently staying in Indonesia, all of whom have been granted refugee status by the UNHCR.
According to a Rohingya refugee who was not included in the resettlement process, at least three had already flown to the US in the resettlement program.
Yudi Kurniadi, the head of North Sumatra Immigration Office, said Trump’s policy had not affected the asylum applications of Rohingya refugees because Myanmar was not on the list of Trump’s banned countries.
“Several Rohingya refugees were sent to the US this month. This was the first batch since the inauguration of Trump as US President,” Yudi told The Jakarta Post.
Yudi said the refugees from the province sent to the US over the past few months were only those from Myanmar. Some others had been sent to Australia and Canada.
Medan hosts 2,089 refugees, 390 of whom are from Afghanistan, 363 from Sri Lanka, 490 from Myanmar, 283 from Somalia, 279 from Palestine and 129 from Iran.
Their destination countries include the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
In Makassar, South Sulawesi, Zarida, another refugee from Myanmar currently living in the city, is also scheduled to be sent to the US on Feb. 14.
Zarida has been staying in Makassar since 2013. The city hosts 1,900 refugees from the Middle East and 60 from Myanmar.
Ramli, the head of the South Sulawesi immigration office, said Zarida’s departure to the US was facilitated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“She passed the verification process and so she will be sent to the US on Feb. 14,” said Ramli.
Zarida was first discovered as an undocumented immigrant four years ago in the city.
She was later verified and granted refugee status under the supervision of the IOM.