Indonesian authorities rubbish claim that 'Rohingya refugees vandalised shelter in East Java'

  • Published on January 11, 2024 at 08:42
  • 3 min read
  • By AFP Indonesia
The arrival of hundreds of Rohingya refugees in Indonesia -- the biggest influx in years -- has triggered a wave of misinformation targeting Myanmar's persecuted ethnic Muslim minority. This includes a video shared by Indonesia media outlets alongside a false claim that it shows a refugee shelter in East Java province that was damaged by ethnic Rohingya. In fact, local government authorities told AFP that Rohingya refugees were not involved in the incident and the perpetrators were refugees from other countries.

"Taman Sidoarjo tenement was damaged by Rohingya Refugees only because of a 24-hour power outage," reads Indonesian-language text superimposed on a TikTok video, posted by Indonesian news outlet Indozone on December 9, 2023.

The one-minute video, which has been viewed more than 1.1 million times, shows broken glass windows, as well as furniture and flower pots strewn on the floor.

"It is destroyed, mate. The refugees have now become inconsiderate and have bad manners," said a person who filmed the video.

Screenshot of the false post, taken on January 2, 2024

According to the post's caption, the video "shows Rohingya refugees allegedly destroying the facilities of the Puspa Agro Jemundo low-rent tenement, at Taman district in Sidoarjo, East Java, because of a 24-hour power outage due to a warehouse fire at PT Lazada on Friday, December 8, 2023."

Puspa Agro is a state-owned multi-storey tenement complex in Jemundo village, Taman district, Sidoarjo regency, Indonesia's East Java province (archived link).

As reported by local media here and here, on December 8, 2023, around 30 refugees vandalised the facilities at Puspa Agro after they protested an hours-long power outage at the tenement, which was caused by a fire at a nearby warehouse (archive links here and here) .

More than 1,500 Rohingya refugees have landed on the shores of Indonesia's northwestern Aceh province since mid-November 2023 -- in what the United Nations says is the biggest influx for eight years.

Some refugees said they fled escalating brutality in the camps in and around Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh, which hold more than one million people and where gangs regularly abduct and torture residents for ransom.

But the persecuted Myanmar minority have also faced rejection from locals in Aceh, and in some cases their boats have been returned to sea.

In an escalation of tensions in late December 2023, hundreds of university students in Aceh stormed a temporary shelter for more than a hundred Rohingya refugees, forcing them to leave.

Similar clips was also posted alongside a similar claim by other news outlets, such as on TikTok, Tribun Pontianak on Facebook, and the Banjarmasin Post on Instagram and YouTube -- racking up more than 844,000 views in total.

But local government authorities told AFP that Rohingya refugees were not the ones who destroyed the facilities. 

Not Rohingya refugees

There are around 300 refugees living at Puspa Agro, according to government figures (archived links here and here).

The refugees mostly came from Afghanistan, while others hailed from Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria. Only six Rohingya refugees live at Puspo Agro.

In addition, Puspa Agro tenants include local Sidoarjo residents and the internally displaced Shiite Muslim minority who were expelled from Madura island by the Sunni majority (archived links here and here).

A staff member from East Java's National and Political Unity Agency (Bakesbangpol), which is responsible for refugee affairs in the province, told AFP that after the incident, they went to check the tenement with Surabaya's Immigration Detention Centre and found that the perpetrators were not Rohingya refugees.

"We confirm that the perpetrators were not Rohingya refugees, but refugees from other groups," the Bakesbangpol staff member said on January 4, 2024.

Wahyu Tri Wibowo, an official at the Surabaya Immigration Detention Centre, also told journalists that the building was not vandalised by the Rohingya. 

The perpetrators "were not Rohingya refugees, they were other refugees", he said, as quoted by Indonesian media Detikcom and Metro TV on December 10, 2023. 

AFP has debunked other misinformation about Rohingya refugees in Indonesia here.

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