Human rights activists and some observers claimed that the students who attacked a Rohingya shelter in Aceh province had been influenced by an “organized” disinformation campaign. Some even suggested that this campaign was linked to the upcoming general election. The incident, which forced 137 refugees, mostly women and children, into trucks and to another location, was condemned as inhumane by many. It was noted that this mob action was not typical of student protests in Aceh.
Hendra Saputra, the project coordinator of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Indonesia, suggested that the incident was not spontaneous but rather “organized and systematic.” He mentioned that social media posts spread hate and misinformation about the Rohingya, including false accusations about food and land, sexual harassment, and other bad behavior. However, he noted that no evidence was presented to substantiate these claims.
Aceh, a predominantly Muslim province with special autonomy status, has a history of welcoming Rohingya refugees. However, as more than 1,500 Rohingya have arrived since mid-November, villagers have demanded that they be sent back, claiming there weren’t enough resources for the refugees. These demands grew to small protests, escalating into the student mob attacking the shelter. The government has since announced that the refugees will be moved to a new location and guarded by security forces.
Observers have suggested that this hostility towards the Rohingya is a result of deliberate misinformation. There is concern that the student movement may have been politically motivated and potentially linked to the upcoming general election.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, a frontrunner in the presidential election, emphasized the need to prioritize the welfare of Indonesia’s people while still being humanitarian towards the Rohingya. His comments came as a student involved in the incident accused the refugees of making unreasonable demands and the students collectively issued a statement rejecting the Rohingya.
The Rohingya are a persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar who have been fleeing violence and oppression. For many, Indonesia is a gateway to Malaysia, a top destination for migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia. However, the Indonesian government has stated that it does not have the obligation or capacity to accommodate the Rohingya refugees permanently and is working towards resettling them in a third country.