In Indonesia, Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims Await Resettlement

Rohingya Muslim families pose on the balcony of the Hotel Sentabi in Medan, June 6, 2015.[BenarNews]

By Nurdin Hasan

Nur Alam is waiting for a country to adopt him.

He has been waiting – living in a hotel in Medan, North Sumatra – for four years.

“My oldest son is now 14. He often asks me what country we are citizens of, because his classmates ask him,” the Rohingya Muslim father of five told BenarNews.

“I don’t know how to answer. Usually I tell him to be patient,” Nur said.

His is one of nine Rohingya families living in a budget hotel in Medan.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) pays for their accommodation. In addition, each adult receives a monthly living allowance of 1.25 million rupiah ($94), and each child gets 500,000 rupiah ($38).

Nur’s case and others like it illustrate the challenge that Indonesia faces in resettling close to a thousand Rohingya Muslims who were rescued from stranded smugglers’ boats off the coast of Aceh Province in May.

Prior to that influx, Indonesia was already housing close to 12,000 foreign refugees from various countries, according to Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi.

“UNHCR is still awaiting their placement to a third country,” she said, referring to the U.N. refugee agency.

Migrating for education

Nur, 39, is one of about 270 Rohingya refugees living in four hotels in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province.

Nur left Rakhine state in western Myanmar in 1997 after the government seized his land.

“I fled Myanmar because I had no work there. The government took my land. My life was in danger so I decided to leave,” he said.

He went first to Malaysia as an illegal migrant and worked in construction for 14 years.

But when his oldest son turned seven, no school would take the boy because of Nur’s status as a refugee.

So he paid a smuggler 28,000 ringgit (U.S. $7,432) to take his family to Australia.

The sea voyage involved a stop in North Sumatra, where they were caught by immigration authorities.

Nur and 13 other migrants were detained for six months and seven days in an immigration facility in Belawan, North Sumatra. The OIM then brought them to Hotel Sentabi, where they have lived ever since.


Next door lives Abdul Wahed, 29. Wahed says he feels fortunate his children can go to school in Medan.

“We can leave the hotel and go around Medan, but we are not allowed to work in Indonesia,” said Wahed, who has been in Medan since 2013.

Wahed and his family came ashore in Meulaboh, West Aceh, that year, from Malaysia. At the time his wife was pregnant and their daughter was born in Banda Aceh. Another daughter was born four months ago in Medan.

To earn some money, Wahed keeps six chickens and grows vegetables outside his hotel room.

Inside, he teaches his children to read the Quran, which he has memorized.

He left Myanmar in 2008, after escaping from prison where he was beaten, he said.

He and his wife and two children went first to Bangladesh, then to Thailand. After two weeks in Thailand, they went on to Malaysia where he too worked in construction.

“I left Malaysia because my children couldn’t go to school,” he said.

‘We are told to be patient’

Since they have lived in Medan not a single Rohingya Muslim has received political asylum in a third country.

“Sometimes we are sad to see that refugees from Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and some other countries are resettled after a year or two in Medan,” Nur said.

“When we ask UNHCR, they say they continue to work on getting us political asylum in a third country. We are told to be patient. How long do we have to be patient?”

Asked about the hundreds more refugees who arrived in Aceh in May, Nur said, “they may have the same fate we do.”

“I always pray to Allah that someday we can go home to Rakhine as citizens of Myanmar, and live in peace,” Wahed said.