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The wandering Rohingya

The UN takes action this week on a forgotten people. Will it matter?

Regional leaders, including those from Myanmar, are on the resort Island of Bali this week to discuss the problem of migrants and, in particular, the Rohingya — though little is expected to come of the meeting. Myanmar has said it would take the Rohingya back if it could be proved they originated from Myanmar, no easy task for people denied citizenship.

The whole process could take many more months and the men are getting anxious that their perilous journey could lead them right back to the place they so desperately left.

Earlier this week, seven of them made a run for it.

There is very little security at the camp, and in fact the refugees stand around on the street outside chatting with volunteers and local government officials. The camp is meant to be closed to journalists. This journalist, however, walked right in with a notebook and a camera and managed to do several hours of interviews without a problem.

And so, at 4:15 in the morning, with most everyone still asleep, the seven men slipped away.

They were all later apprehended by the Indonesian military. When they were questioned they said that following their interviews with the International Organization for Migration, they were convinced they’d be deported.

“I’ll go somewhere, I’ll stay here, but I can’t go Myanmar. There (is) no work. In Myanmar, the Buddhists kill us. They take our sisters and kill us if we say no,” said Nurul Lah, 20, in the little English he has learned during his travels. “It is just too dangerous for me.”

At the camp here in Idi Rayeuk (see map below) they are free to pray and on sunny afternoons they enjoy competitive games of volleyball. But sanitation is basic, as is food, and supplies are running out. Health care is almost non-existent — a serious problem for the dozens of them suffering from potentially life-threatening diseases.

International aid agencies, already strapped for cash and spread thin across the globe, have not jumped at their cause and as a result the management of the camp is in the hands of one small nongovernment organization, the Building Bridges Foundation, a few even smaller local nongovernment organizations and a local administration that is in no way equipped to care for almost 200 men.

Perhaps luckily, the men landed in a place where the people can relate to their dire situation. The Acehnese here had long suffered from a decades-old separatist movement and Idi Rayeuk once served as a launching point for Acehnese trying to escape. The locals have generously donated food and clothing, an incredible gesture considering their own financial situation.

“Here they have little money but they give clothes, food and other things,” Nurul said. “In Myanmar – nothing.”

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