Hundreds of university students in Indonesia’s westernmost province stormed a temporary shelter for more than a hundred Rohingya refugees on Wednesday, forcing them to leave in the latest rejection of the persecuted Myanmar minority.
More than 1,500 Rohingya refugees have arrived on the shores of Aceh province since mid- November in what the United Nations says is the biggest influx for eight years. Some of their boats have faced rejection by locals and in some cases have been returned to sea.
The students, many wearing jackets with different universities’ insignias, entered a government function hall in the capital Banda Aceh where 137 Rohingya refugees were staying.
The students demanded they be moved to a local immigration office so they could be deported, according to footage seen by AFP.
It showed students chanting “kick them out” and “reject Rohingyas in Aceh”. The students were also seen kicking the Rohingyas’ belongings.
Some women and children were in tears while men who had been praying looked to the ground.
The protesters were also involved in a scuffle with police who were guarding the frightened refugees but officers ultimately permitted their removal by the students, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
The students burned tires and prepared trucks for the Rohingyas to be moved. Police helped them board before they were taken to another government office nearby, the AFP journalist observed.
Banda Aceh police did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said the incident left refugees shocked and traumatised.
“The UNHCR remains deeply worried about the safety of refugees and calls on local law enforcement authorities for urgent action to ensure protection of all desperate individuals and humanitarian staff,” it said in a statement.
“The attack on refugees is not an isolated act but the result of a coordinated online campaign of misinformation, disinformation and hate speech against refugees.”
Many Acehnese, who themselves have memories of decades of bloody conflict, are sympathetic to the plight of their fellow Muslims.
But others say their patience has been tested, claiming the Rohingyas consume scarce resources and occasionally come into conflict with locals.
“We protested because we don’t agree with the Rohingyas who keep coming here,” Kholilullah, a 23-year-old university student who goes by one name, told AFP.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and says it cannot be compelled to take in refugees from Myanmar, calling instead on neighbouring countries to share the burden and resettle Rohingyas who arrive on its shores.