Open Letter on The Need for The Indonesian Central Government to Ensure Basic Needs of Rohingya Refugees in Aceh, Indonesia

TOPSHOT – A Rohingya man from Myanmar hugs an Indonesian officer after being evacuated from a boat onto the shorelines of Lancok village, in Indonesia’s North Aceh Regency on June 25, 2020. – Nearly 100 Rohingya from Myanmar, including 30 children, have been rescued from a rickety wooden boat off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island, a maritime official said. (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP) (Photo by CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Ref. : 167/AII – Presiden RI/IX/2020
Jakarta, 9 September 2020


H.E. Ir. H. Joko Widodo
The President of the Republic of Indonesia
State Secretariat
Jl. Veteran No. 17-18, Central Jakarta
DKI Jakarta 10110, Indonesia


Subject: Open Letter on The Need for The Indonesian Central Government to Ensure Basic Needs of Rohingya Refugees in Aceh, Indonesia

Your Excellency,


We are writing to you to express our deep concern about the conditions of Rohingya refugees in Aceh taken care of solely by the local Government of Lhokseumawe, especially after the recent death of a Rohingya refugee who recently disembarked in Lhokseumawe due to breathing difficulty. We urge you to support the local government in ensuring the basic rights of Rohingya refugees in line with international human rights standards and national regulation.


As you may know, on Monday, 7 September 2020, 297 Rohingya refugees disembarked in Lhokseumawe, Aceh. It is reported that this second cohort of refugees has been stranded at sea for approximately seven months. During the journey, 30 of them have reportedly died and their bodies were thrown into the sea. The rest have been dehydrated and experiencing sickness due to exposure to bad weather with limited access to clean water or food. They have been temporarily accommodated in tents around the Vocational Training Center, where the previous cohort of Rohingya refugees who arrived in June are residing.

We would like to draw your attention to the health complaints of the newly disembarked refugees. As mentioned above, one of the Rohingya refugees has died as a result of breathing difficulty. According to our contact on the ground, 38 other refugees have similar complaints on breathing difficulty; however, their health condition is still left unattended. Without having their health checked, they are at higher risk of falling ill. Their vulnerable condition as a result of months of a journey at sea puts them at a higher risk of being infected by COVID-19.


With almost 400 Rohingya refugees hosted by the local Government of Lhokseumawe, the need for adequate sanitation facilities and accommodation becomes more urgent. Food, clean drinking water, towels, clothes, hygiene kits, sleeping mattresses, partition for the building where refugees are accommodated, and women’s sanitary pad are urgently needed by the refugees. The provision of these needs cannot be sustainably fulfilled by the local government alone.

Dear Mr. President,

Our requests are made in accordance with existing national regulations. Article 27 of Law No. 37 of 1999 on Foreign Affairs stipulates the authority of the President, in consultation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to determine policy on the issue of refugees. The main role of the central government in handling refugees in Indonesia is also provided in Article 2 of the Presidential Regulation No. 125 of 2016 on the Handling of Foreign Refugees, which states that “the handling of refugees is carried out based on the cooperation between the central government and the United Nations through its High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia and/or international organizations.”

Under Article 40 of the Presidential Regulation No. 125 of 2016, one of the two sources of funding for the handling of refugees is from the State Budget through relevant Ministries or agencies, which falls under the responsibility of the central government. That being said, the support from the central government is crucial to ensure the facilitation of basic needs for refugees on a more sustainable basis, reducing the overwhelming burden on the local government of Lhokseumawe and relevant organisations on the ground.

Article 26 of the Presidential Regulation No. 125 of 2016 authorizes the local governments in cities or regencies to determine the shelter or accommodation for refugees. On the other hand, the Regulation specifies the role of international organization focused on migration in facilitating the basic needs of the refugees, such as the provision of clean water, food, drinking water, clean clothes, and health service. The local government of Lhokseumawe, with the help of civil society organisations, has fulfilled this mandate since June. However, their capacity is limited, as the mechanism of ensuring the basic needs of refugees are now divided among several organisations on the ground.

Your Excellency,


We hereby urge you, as the President of the Republic of Indonesia, to take the following steps as a matter of priority:


– Ensures the central government to step in and support the local government of Lhokseumawe in providing basic needs and adequate shelters for Rohingya refugees. This action will show the commitment of the Indonesian Government to the protection of refugees according to international human rights standards and it will fulfil the responsibility of the government enshrined in the Presidential Regulation;
– Ensures that the Health Ministry will conduct medical check-ups for the Rohingya refugees who recently disembarked by coordinating with health agency in Lhokseumawe, Aceh. Refugees who are ill or experiencing symptoms of certain illness should be adequately treated in local hospitals;
– Formulates a technical guideline for relevant Ministries indicated in the Presidential Regulation and local governments on their roles in ensuring the provision of basic needs of refugees; and
– Conducts a regional dialogue on the needs to ensure assistance for Rohingya refugees currently residing outside of Myanmar, including in Bangladesh and Malaysia, under the principle of shared responsibility.


We remain at your disposal should you wish to discuss this matter. A copy of this letter will be sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi; Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, Mohammad Mahfud MD; Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly; and the Minister of Health, Terawan Agus Putranto.
Thank you for your attention.


Yours sincerely,

Usman Hamid
Executive Director


Carbon Copied:
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Retno Marsudi
Coordinating Minister of Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, Mohammad Mahfud MD
Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly
Minister of Health, Terawan Agus Putranto

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