Rohingya refugees come across hostility from locals

Rohingya refugees in Aceh, Indonesia, encounter hostility driven by online misinformation and hate speeches against the refugees.

In early December, a group of Rohingya refugees started seeking refuge along the shores of Aceh province in Indonesia. Once a welcoming haven, sentiments in Aceh have shifted over recent months. Locals, citing the reason for overused resources, have protested, urging humanitarian groups to leave the area.

In late December, a disturbing incident unfolded as a mob stormed into a building sheltering refugee families, forcing 137 people onto trucks. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, attributed the incident to a coordinated online campaign of misinformation and hate speech against refugees. Ann Mayman, UNHCR’s representative in Indonesia, noted that the professionally crafted content spread across multiple platforms, involving numerous bots.

Social media posts portrayed Rohingya as ungrateful, resource-draining, and a danger to locals. Human Rights Watch called for a government investigation into the online campaign. A local official emphasized that there had been no criminal activity by Rohingya in his village, except for a minor incident resolved amicably.

Misleading reports and inflammatory language proliferate on social media platforms. TikTok, in particular, hosted posts comparing Rohingya’s arrival to controversial global issues and depicting them negatively. Five posts were removed for breaching TikTok’s guidelines.

Human Rights Watch accused anonymous accounts on Instagram, TikTok, and X of spreading disinformation and publishing personal information about UNHCR staff, leading to online threats.

President Joko Widodo, in December, expressed concern about potential human trafficking behind the surge in arrivals, pledging temporary humanitarian aid while prioritizing residents. Azharul Husna, coordinator of the Aceh chapter of NGO (KontraS), highlighted unprecedented hostility toward Rohingya, fueled by misinformation.

Approximately 1,750 refugees are now in Aceh, with most arrivals in recent months. Despite increased boat landings, UNHCR views the numbers as manageable. Yogi Febriandi, head of the Department of Islamic Political Thought at IAIN Langsa, Aceh, emphasized the need for clear information and budget allocation from Jakarta.

While Aceh has welcomed Rohingya refugees in the past, the current situation calls for urgent government intervention. Limited resources pose challenges, and NGOs that once supported refugees in Aceh are facing constraints. Indonesia, not a party to the 1951 Refugees Convention, relies on national laws for temporary protection. .