Indonesia and the Rohingya Crisis

(Jakarta, 29 June 2018) The government of Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has tried to manage domestic anger over Myanmar’s violence against the Rohingya by a combination of high-level diplomacy and humanitarian aid. Domestically, the combination has worked, and President Jokowi is under no serious pressure to take more dramatic measures that might jeopardise its relations with Myanmar, a fellow member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). There is no indication thus far, however, that diplomacy, whether bilateral or multilateral, has won any concessions on the Rohingya from Myanmar. The question is whether Indonesia can use its newly-won seat as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council to press for a solution that includes greater access by humanitarian organisations and citizenship rights and freedom of movement for Rohingya inside Myanmar. 

Indonesia and the Rohingya Crisis, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), looks at Indonesia’s efforts to respond to the late 2017 violence against the Rohingya that led to one of the largest, fastest refugee flows on record, with more than 700,000 people flooding into Bangladesh in a matter of weeks.

“The Jokowi government managed to keep the Islamist political opposition off balance by a fast and visible response to the crisis, but very little has changed on the ground in Myanmar,” says Deka Anwar, IPAC analyst. “Now there are concerns about the consequences of an untenable situation in the camps around Cox’s Bazar, which could lead to more trafficking into Southeast Asia or new contacts between Indonesian groups and Rohingya linked to the armed insurgency, ARSA.”

Indonesia’s main vehicle for providing humanitarian aid in the camps has been an eleven-member coalition called Indonesian Humanitarian Alliance (IHA), led by the country’s two largest mainstream Muslim social organisations, Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. A few Islamist groups are also included. But groups outside the government-sanctioned alliance are also active in the camps.  Thus far, there is no evidence of that either ARSA or any of  the Indonesians outside IHA working in the camps have ties to global jihadi organisations. But if routes and contacts are set up, it may be a matter of time before communication between Indonesian extremists and ARSA – or more radical Rohingya networks in the camps – is established.

Indonesia thus has a strong interest in pressing its “4 + 1 Formula” as a U.N. Security Council member. The formula, first raised by Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi with Aung San Suu Kyi in September 2017, is restoration of stability and security; maximum self-restraint and commitment not to use violence; protection of all persons in Rakhine State, regardless of race and religion; and immediate access for humanitarian assistance. The “plus” is the implementation of the recommendations of Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

“Finding a way forward on the Rohingya crisis will be hard, but Indonesia is well placed to try,” says Deka Anwar.

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©2013 Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.