Rohingya refugees back on their feet a year after crisis

No more: Security personnel push a stranded Sri Lankan boat off the shore using a backhoe before towing it out to sea at Lhoknga Beach, Aceh, on Monday. After providing humanitarian aid, local authorities tried to turn away the boat, which was carrying 44 Sri Lankan asylum seekers.(JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)(JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)

No more: Security personnel push a stranded Sri Lankan boat off the shore using a backhoe before towing it out to sea at Lhoknga Beach, Aceh, on Monday. After providing humanitarian aid, local authorities tried to turn away the boat, which was carrying 44 Sri Lankan asylum seekers.(JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)

Sofih Alam can only resign himself to God as he cannot fast during Ramadhan with his family. Sofih is staying with other Rohingya Muslim refugees at the Pelangi Hotel in Medan, North Sumatra, while his wife and child, who are Indonesian nationals, live with his parents-in-law on Jl. Irigasi, Medan.

Sofih is among Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees who are married to Indonesian Muslim women. Since getting married in 2014, Sofih lives separately with his wife, but the ethnically mixed marriage is blessed with a son, aged 8 months.

He lamented that he could not gather with his wife and son during Ramadhan. According to the 27-year-old man, it would be very beautiful to carry out Ramadhan with his beloved family.

“This is the fate of Rohingya refugees who have wives and children but cannot live together. We fast separately, and during Idul Fitri, we also celebrate separately,” Sofih told The Jakarta Post at the Pelangi Hotel refugee shelter in Medan on Wednesday.

He said it was very difficult to live as a refugee because everything was restricted by regulations. During Ramadhan, for example, any aid channeled to Rohingya refugees must have permits from the immigration office. As a result, said Sofih, there was no longer support from the community during Ramadhan for the past couple of years.

“Earlier, we received a lot of the help, but not any longer,” he said.

Sofih said that during Ramadhan, refugees were forced to chip in to buy food for sahur (pre-dawn meal) and iftar.

“Some chip in Rp 10,000 [about 75 US cents], while others chip in Rp 20,000 each. There is no obligation, as we gather any amount to buy our fasting needs during the month,” said Sofih, adding that the number of Rohingya refugees accommodated in Hotel Pelangi stood at 110. During Ramadhan, they break their fast, have sahur and pray together in the hotel, which they have lived in for years.

Sofih said the entire amount of the hotel costs and the money they spent every day, including for fasting, came from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). He claimed every refugee received monthly assistance from the IOM every.

“Each adult refugee receives a monthly allowance of Rp 1,250,000, while a child refugee gets Rp 500,000,” said Sofih, adding that the assistance was only intended for Rohingya refugees, and not their Indonesian wives and children.

Hundreds of migrants washed ashore on the coast of Aceh last year in one of the largest migrant crises in Southeast Asia. Most of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims who fled their home country of Myanmar to avoid persecution. Those who are temporarily accommodated in Indonesia mostly stay in shelters in Aceh as well as in Medan.

The IOM recorded that the number of illegal immigrants who hold the status of refugee and asylum seeker in Medan in 2015 reached 1,895 people. However, in mid-2016, the number increased to 1,900, among them refugees from Afghanistan ( 390 ), Sri Lanka ( 363 ), Myanmar Rohingya ( 283 ), Somalia ( 283 ), Palestine ( 270 ) and Iran ( 129 ). They wish to be placed in countries such as the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Sofih expressed gratitude for the continuous help he had received for almost six years, but said it was not enough to meet everyday needs. Sofih said the amount of aid received by refugees for the past six years until now remained the same, while the prices of basic necessities kept rising.

“I was still alone back then, but now I am married. Nonetheless, I have received the same amount of assistance. We’re not allowed to work for extra money,” said Sofih, who wishes to become an Indonesian citizen.

Another Rohingya refugee, Muhammad Nur, said he was very eager to gain asylum from a third country in order to live freely and to work to meet the living needs of his family. Nur claimed he had been a refugee in Indonesia for nearly six years, but has not been sent to a third country.

The North Sumatra Immigration Office’s Justice and Human Rights department head, Yudi Kurniadi, said that based on information from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), there were a number of refugees accommodated in Medan who were sent to the US and Canada on June 15 this year.

“So, almost every month there are refugees from here sent by the UNHCR to destination countries. The number is not definite. It depends on verification conducted by the UNHCR,” Yudi told the Post.

Yudi pointed out that based on regulations, the refugees were not permitted to receive guests, let alone live with others who are not from their own country. He added the refugees live adequately as all their needs are met by the IOM, so there was no need for help from the community. “They’re pretty good, as all their requirements are fulfilled by the IOM,” he said.

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