The Patience for a Long Journey

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh receiving JRS supplies

Since early January 2009, international and national media reports have been appearing on the plight of the Rohingya boat-people who were drifting for days at sea in dingy boats without engine.

 It was allegedly reported that with meager supplies of food and water, they were pushed back into the sea from Thailand and drifted towards Indonesian soil after a long traumatic voyage facing starvation and illness at the open ocean. A month after the first arrival of 193 people in Sabang, the most western part of Indonesia, a second boat carrying 198 people arrived in Kuala Idi Rayeuk, East Aceh district. Its arrival, raised questions regards to the background of the situation and the compelling reasons which forces to such a perilous journey in the sea and the responsibilities countries also have to undertake when facing such a situation.

 Appreciation should be given to fishermen of Kuala Idi, Sub-District Government of Idi Rayeuk, the members of the Navy base in Sabang and the Sabang Government for promoting a humanitarian perspective and for responding to the humanitarian needs of the sea survivors from Burma/Myanmar and Bangladesh washed ashore in Aceh.[1]

 Jesuit Refugee Service Indonesia was concerned about the situation of the survivors and in line with its mandate – to serve, to accompany and to advocate for the forcibly displaced people, it supported the Indonesian Red Cross (or PMI in Indonesia) in their efforts to provide the much necessary humanitarian assistance.

 JRS team in Banda Aceh coordinated with PMI and the Mayor of Sabang in providing the relief supplies for the survivors in Sabang and Idi Rayeuk. On 5th February 2009, JRS distributed relief aid in Idi and on 14th Feb 2009 in Sabang. The relief supplies distributed were aimed at addressing the daily needs, e.g. sleeping mattresses, slippers, sarongs, hygiene kits, clothes, underwear, sleeping bags, tents and kitchen wares for the public kitchen in Sabang.

 It has been now two months since the Rohingya boat-people arrived, but there is a continued uncertainty about their situation and where the actions of the Indonesia governments’ response will take them.

 This uncertainty does not only affect the boat people themselves but also the local authorities, volunteers and local organisations providing humanitarian care. It might be one of the reasons why until now a proper camp management has not yet been put in place in Idi Rayeuk.

 For the boat people it means again waiting for a decision of the central government as to how the government wishes to proceed with them, waiting till UNHCR and IOM will get permission to start exploring the reasons for them being in Indonesia. Then waiting again for decisions to be made, not knowing how long their journey really will be.

 Facing again an uncertain future, for them is the same situation like their boat without engine or proper sails drifting in the vast ocean just waiting where the current will take them, quietly, with patience for deliverance and a prayer.

 Maybe waiting for an answer to the question: Will this journey ever end?

Yoppie


[1] When we refer to the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (also known as the SAR Convention) from 1979, Acehnese fishermen acted appropriate when rescuing the survivors as did the Indonesian Navy and Sabang authorities when providing emergency assistance at the Naval Base in Sabang. Recalling chapter 2.1.10 of the SAR convention, “… to ensure that assistance be provided to any person in distress at sea. They shall do so regardless of the nationality or status of such a person or the circumstances in which that person is found“. The obligation of states is also defined in the same convention, as to “… provide for their initial medical or other needs, and deliver them to a place of safety” (Chapter 1.3.2). Aim of this regulation is to ensure that the survivors at sea are safe and recover both physically and emotionally. In certain cases, psychological recovery requires a longer treatment as the impact of the experience is hard to measure.

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