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Indonesia: Relocation of Myanmarese, Bangladeshi migrants rejected

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Apriadi Gunawan , The Jakarta Post , Medan

Residents rejected on Friday a relocation of 195 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh from Aceh to a housing complex in Medan, North Sumatra.

Meanwhile, the Rohingya boatpeople hoped they could recieve Indonesian citizenship.

The residents threatened violence if the government decided to settle the immigrants at the Tempua housing complex in Medan's Sunggal district.

Nazaruddin, one of the residents, said they were surprised to find the foreigners were being accommodated in their housing complex without prior notification.

"Residents here disagree with *moving the* immigrants into the housing complex. We will use violence if the foreigners stay here," Nazaruddin said.

To avoid clashes between the immigrants and local residents, officers from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Polonia Immigration Office, Medan, evacuated the immigrants from the housing complex to a foundation office at the Education and Training Center on Jl. Cempaka, Medan Selayang district.

In the center, the refugees were seen resting after being bussed in from Aceh.

Rahmat Larosa of Polonia Immigration Office admitted that relocating the immigrants from the housing complex to the center was their only option to avoid any conflict.

Rahmat said the immigrants would stay at the center temporarily while waiting for a decision by the Directorate General of Immigration.

Meanwhile, the immigrants said they did not know why they were relocated from Aceh to Medan.

Muhammad Yunus, an immigrant from Myanmar, said the IOM, who facilitated the relocation, promised to give the immigrants residency documents after they arrived in Medan.

Yunus hoped the Indonesian President would be willing to give them residency.

"We want to become Indonesian citizens," he said.

The immigrants, 147 Myanmarese and 48 Bangladeshis, arrived in Indonesia on Jan. 7, this year when their boat washed ashore on Sabang Island in Aceh. The immigrants were originally detained and processed at the Sabang Island Naval Base.

The Foreign Ministry said the boatpeople were to be repatriated to Bangladesh once their identity verification was cleared by their countries of origin.

There are 388 Rohingya people in Aceh, all fled Myanmar and Bangladesh because of poverty and alleged government persecution.

The Rohingya number about 750,000 in Myanmar, but are not recognized as a distinct ethnicity. Rights groups say they face forced labor, land seizures, rape and murder.

Thousands have risked their lives in dangerous boats fleeing to neighboring countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Bangladesh and India.