Ro­hingya hope for peace­ful Ramadan in In­done­sia


Muham­mad Yunus came ashore in In­done­sia by ac­ci­dent af­ter a har­row­ing boat jour­ney — but he and hun­dreds of other Ro­hingya mi­grants are de­lighted to be spend­ing Is­lam’s holi­est month in the world’s most pop­u­lous Mus­lim­ma­jor­ity coun­try.

The boat peo­ple in Aceh province are among thou­sands of Ro­hingya and Bangladeshi mi­grants who ar­rived in coun­tries across South­east Asia in May af­ter a Thai crack­down threw the peo­ple-smug­gling trade into chaos and sparked a re­gional cri­sis.

Yunus had hoped to reach rel­a­tively af­flu­ent Malaysia, like many of the re­gion’s mi­grants, but af­ter a months-long voy­age was dumped in shal­low wa­ters off Aceh.

He is nev­er­the­less re­lieved to have washed up in In­done­sia — par­tic­u­larly in time for Ramadan, which starts on Thurs­day — and be far from his na­tive Myan­mar, a pre­dom­i­nantly Bud­dhist coun­try where the Ro­hingya have long faced dis­crim­i­na­tion and are de­nied cit­i­zen­ship.

“Praise be to God, we were saved and brought to a Mus­lim coun­try,” said the 35- year- old re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion teacher, who was res­cued off the coast of Aceh on May 10 with around 580 other mi­grants.

“The peo­ple here are very kind and have helped us; they see Ro­hingya refugees as their broth­ers.”

Oth­ers, such as 16- year- old Muham­mad Shorif, who fled a Ro­hingya refugee camp in Bangladesh where he had lived with his fam­ily, echoed his sen­ti­ments.

“I miss mother’s cook­ing in the refugee camp,” he said, but added he was “very happy” to be in Aceh for Ramadan, when Mus­lims are re­quired to fast from sunrise to sunset.

Ramadan will be a busy time for Yunus, who left Myan­mar in 2012 when his Is­lamic school was de­stroyed dur­ing fierce com­mu­nal vi­o­lence be­tween lo­cal Bud­dhists and Ro­hingya, as he acts as prayer leader for the Ro­hingya in the camps.

He said that at the time he fled, it was im­pos­si­ble for Mus­lims to wor­ship in peace, with mosques be­ing razed to the ground and se­cu­rity forces stop­ping them from per­form­ing prayers.

Yunus spent sev­eral years at a camp in Bangladesh but got on a boat ear­lier this year in an at­tempt to es­cape the piti­ful

con­di­tions there.

Acehnese also Suf­fered

A res­i­dent of Sit­twe, the cap­i­tal of Myan­mar’s Rakhine state where per­se­cuted Ro­hingya have fled in droves, told AFP there were no re­stric­tions im­posed by lo­cal author­i­ties this year dur­ing Ramadan, and lo­cal Mus­lims could wor­ship in mosques.

Nev­er­the­less, the sit­u­a­tion has long been tense, with many Mus­lims in the city liv­ing seg­re­gated un­der armed guard.

It is a starkly dif­fer­ent pic­ture in Aceh, where peo­ple have flocked to give do­na­tions of food and money to the new ar­rivals and are plan­ning to bring them del­i­ca­cies to break fast dur­ing Ramadan, which ends with the Mus­lim hol­i­day of Eid.

Many in the area sym­pa­thize with the Ro­hingya’s plight be­cause of their own painful re­cent history — Aceh was left in ru­ins by a decades-long sep­a­ratist con­flict, which only ended when the 2004 In­dian Ocean tsunami hit the province, leav­ing more than 170,000 dead in In­done­sia alone.

“Dur­ing the con­flict in the past, we en­dured suf­fer­ing. But there are Ro­hingya who have had worse ex­pe­ri­ences than peo­ple in Aceh,” said Syam­sud­din Muham­mad, a 55-year-old fish­er­man who came to the mi­grant camp to do­nate money col­lected by his vil­lage.

The Acehnese are also try­ing to im­prove the mi­grants’ liv­ing con­di­tions.

At first they were given shel­ter in a sports cen­ter be­fore be­ing moved to shabby build­ings in the fish­ing town of Kuala Cangkoi, and this week they were taken to a vil­lage in­land, where they are be­ing housed in bet­ter build­ings.

Since com­ing ashore ema­ci­ated and filthy af­ter months at sea, many of the mi­grants ap­pear to be re­cov­er­ing swiftly.

Im­ages of one des­per­ate group in a green wooden boat off Thai­land shocked the world — but AFP tracked some of them down last month at a camp in another part of Aceh, where they had even­tu­ally ar­rived, and found many re­laxed, dressed in fresh clothes and less gaunt and ema­ci­ated.

De­spite the mi­grants’ im­me­di­ate re­lief at hav­ing made it to a wel­com­ing na­tion, they are likely to be liv­ing in limbo for years as few coun­tries are will­ing to re­set­tle mi­grants, in­clud­ing those who have gen­uine refugee sta­tus, and there are a huge num­ber wait­ing for re­set­tle­ment.

Many end up liv­ing a half-life in the shad­ows, ek­ing out a liv­ing in the in­for­mal sec­tor, far from their loved ones.

Even Yunus, who is happy to have ended up in Aceh, longs for his fam­ily back in Myan­mar dur­ing Is­lam’s holi­est month.

“I miss my wife and chil­dren,” he said, strug­gling to hold back tears.


(Above) This pic­ture taken on Mon­day, June 14 shows Ro­hingya mi­grant men tak­ing part in prayers in Kuala Cangkoi.

( Right) This pic­ture taken on Mon­day shows Ro­hingya mi­grant women look­ing at a mo­bile phone in Kuala Cangkoi, In­done­sia’s Aceh province.

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