Welcoming Rohingya Refugees in Solidarity and Compassion with People of AcehThursday, October 29th, 2020
Early this year, JRS Indonesia received communication of a mother vessel which had embarked on a dangerous journey to seek a more dignified life and protection. News after news reported heartbreaking stories of the rejection of the ship that sought to disembark in several Southeast Asian countries.
In June 2020, 99 refugees were stranded in the Indonesian sea of North Aceh. It was believed they were part of the mothership that had journeyed for months. Even though Indonesia has a presidential regulation that specifically dictates the proper response to the situation, in other words, to save lives, it took days for the decision to be made. The concern over the spread of COVID-19 was among the few.
Aceh fishermen, well-known for their quick response in saving lives at sea, took matters into their own hands. Abandoning their work, they set out to help the boats carried mostly women and children. The government finally allowed it to land after the fishermen assisted them. The locals collectively raised support and welcome the Rohingyas. It marked as the beginning of the call for solidarity and compassion.
JRS Indonesia decided to join the call. With two focal points on the ground from their first day of arrival, we were able to coordinate with relevant stakeholders to initiate necessary responses. We also focused on advocacy to adopt best practices from the past, and to offer collaboration with the government, NGOs, and local communities. We were able to fill the gap in emergency needs, such as electricity tokens for the make-shift shelter, heavy cleaning, and set up for the new shelter in collaboration with international organizations, NGOs, and local authorities. Once the building was ready, the refugees were moved to the new shelter in Lhokseumawe, Aceh. JRS co-organized two information sessions about refugees for local stakeholders, including local police, military, neighborhood authorities, and local communities around the shelter.
All refugees were tested negative for COVID-19 after taking the rapid test. The situation has been under controlled, but gradually worsen. Food rations, toilets, and medical assistance have become limited. Many NGOs found it is difficult to access funding because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the local government of Lhokseumawe has tried to get ahold of the situation by setting up a local task force. This is not the first time for Aceh as a province, but the first for Lhokseumawe as a city. However, the locals came to donate daily: fish, rice, meat, and they often stayed at the shelter to help. This is another example of solidarity and compassion.
Another boat arrived in September carrying 296 Rohingyas, with the majority are women and children. While the situation has slightly progressed in the shelter, the new arrival called for attention. JRS responded directly with food on the day they arrived. The government decided that they would be placed in the same shelter as the first group.
We witnessed many challenges. Their health conditions after having been at sea for months were bad. During the following three days, JRS, in collaboration with other organizations, accompanied, and had to witness three people who died from the horrific condition at sea. With limited resources, NGOs found it challenging to respond, especially when the number had multiplied by four. Toilets were insufficient, the building lacked private space, waste management was not yet installed, and most importantly, the commitment for food assistance would end by September.
Fortunately, with the support of JRS Asia Pacific and JRS International, JRS Indonesia has been able to secure food assistance for another three months from October 2020 to 31 December 2020. JRS currently provides a packed meal for everyone. Once the mechanism and public kitchen are ready, JRS plans to invite refugees to prepare, cook, and distribute their meals. The whole process will be in line with the necessary COVID-19 protective measures.
The mayor of Lhokseumawe stated his support to empower refugees’ livelihood. Discussions have been over the shift of assistance from food to cash-based, hopefully, by the end of this year. Moreover, it is also hoped that this will lead to livelihood activities where people become more self-reliant. JRS fully supports this approach and will take part in necessary coordination or advocacy.
Unfortunately, the current emergency continues, especially in the coming rainy season. The complicated commitment and coordination with the government, as well as limited resources of NGOs, are real concerns. Regional mechanisms, that are often portrayed as a solution, have not shown practical impacts nor concrete responses on the ground. With the current policies and closed-border narrative, the question remains: Have we learned anything from the people of Aceh about solidarity and compassion?
Gading Gumilang Putra
National Information and Advocacy Officer
(Indonesia) Paus Fransiskus berulang kali mengunjungi para pengungsi, menyapa mereka dan mendorong kepedulian terhadap mereka. Ia bahkan pernah memboyong tiga keluarga pengungsi Suriah ke Vatikan. Bagaimana pandangan dan ajaran Gereja terkait pengungsi? Continue reading
If we, as a human family, insist on only ever seeing refugees as a burden, we deprive ourselves of the opportunities for solidarity that are also always opportunities for mutual learning, mutual enrichment, and mutual growth. Continue reading
Yogyakarta, 20 November 2014 – The Jesuit Refugee Service observes with deep sadness yet another sudden retroactive change in the policy of Australia towards people seeking international protection in Southeast Asia. Yesterday, the government of Australia announced its decision to … Continue reading
Together with the Community of United Volunteers Yogjakarta, JRS Indonesia took part in the emergency response in Kelud. The Community of United Volunteers Yogjakarta, comprised of a diverse group of individuals and students from Yogyakarta, work together in humanitarian disaster response, being present and providing support in the form of accompaniment, counseling activities or delivering urgently needed goods. JRS Indonesia provided funds to support the operational and expenditure of urgently need goods, also presence in the field for two days, on February 26-27, 2014. Continue reading
Celebrating 33 years of being with and serving refugees, JRS would like to encourage you to extend your hospitality and support to our brothers and sisters that are here to seek protection. Continue reading
“It’s not enough to give a sandwich if it isn’t accompanied by the possibility of learning to stand on one’s own two feet. Charity that does not change the situation of the poor isn’t enough. True mercy, which God gives and teaches us, calls for justice, for a way in which the poor can find a way out of poverty.” Continue reading
The Jesuit Refugee Service joined together with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and representatives of a number of faith-based organisations to call for greater protection for refugees.
The multilingual, 16-page declaration, known as an Affirmation of Welcome, is the first to involve UNHCR and a spectrum of faith-based organisations. Continue reading
In May 2013 JRS supported the SUAKA Diplomat briefing on the situation of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Indonesia. SUAKA and JRS participated in a Focus Group Discussion at the National Human Rights Commission discussing and promoting Indonesia’s ratification of the convention on the status of Refugees and its protocol. SUAKA continues to provide legal advice and accompaniment to Asylum Seekers during the RSD process mostly referrals from JRS. Currently a more comprehensive referral system is developed in a collaboration of JRS and SUAKA. Continue reading
It was Sunday evening of 9 September 2012. Twelve African men were walking toward a rather big shop in Cipayung. They were some asylum seekers from Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia. Their destination, a place on the third floor of that … Continue reading
Yogyakarta, 14 November 2011 – 31 years is not short measured on a lifetime. After a 31 year journey JRS is proud of the heritage of spiritual insights from Pedro Arrupe who arouse the concern of people for the refugees. This year, JRS Indonesia celebrated its 31st anniversary in many simple ways. Continue reading