Stateless and Marginalized, Rohingya Refugees Forced Out of Indonesian Shelter By Student Protesters

Earlier this year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the Burmese government and military as they “continue to commit widespread and egregious religious freedom violations, particularly against Rohingya Muslimsnearly one million of whom have been driven out of the country into refugee camps in Bangladesh.”

(Photo by Richard Juilliart,
(Photo by Richard Juilliart,

On August 25, 2017, the Burmese military began what the UN described as a campaign with “genocidal intent” against the Rohingya—a campaign marked by rape, murder and the razing of villages by fire. Over 750,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh, seeking and finding asylum in what is now the world’s largest refugee camp.

There, however, they found little respite. Behind the barbed wires of the camps, refugees felt, in the words of journalist Kaamil Ahmed, “stateless and marginalized wherever they are.”

Then, in December 2021, Bangladesh shut down all the refugee-run schools in which Rohingya children were being taught the Myanmar curriculum. The Bangladesh government, not wishing the Rohingya to integrate, had previously banned the use of the Bangla language in those schools.

With the patience of the host country wearing thin, and with over half a million children at risk from malnutrition and disease due to inhumanely low rations, the situation in Bangladesh became untenable for the Rohingya, leading many to flee by boat to nearby Indonesia.

The province of Aceh is the northwesternmost point of Indonesia—closest to Bangladesh by boat—so it was there that more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees have arrived since mid-November 2023, their highest influx in eight years, according to the UN.

But in Indonesia, too, the refugees have been greeted harshly. Some of the boats were forcibly returned to sea by locals. “We don’t want the Rohingyas,” said one man. “We don’t want to catch the diseases they carry.” Said a local woman, “It’s one boat after another. How many boats have come here already? We are poor people. Why don’t you use the money to help us? Why are you giving them food?”

“Around 75 percent of the new arrivals are women and children,” said Emily Bojovic of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Southeast Asia Regional Office. “Of the children, quite a lot are unaccompanied and separated, which means they are traveling without their parents or they’re traveling alone. Quite a lot of single mothers and children.”

Then on December 27, hundreds of university students attacked a temporary shelter, demanding the asylum-seekers be deported. The shelter—a convention center—housed many refugees, over a hundred of whom were forced out by protesters who stormed the center’s basement chanting “Kick them out” and “Reject Rohingya in Aceh.”

Video captured the students kicking the belongings of families who could do nothing but watch and cry in fear. At length, police restored order and escorted refugees onto trucks to another government office nearby.

The UNHCR said in a statement it was “deeply disturbed to see a mob attack on a site sheltering vulnerable refugee families, the majority being children and women,” and called for better protection.

“The mob broke a police cordon and forcibly put 137 refugees on two trucks, and moved them to another location in Banda Aceh. The incident has left refugees shocked and traumatized,” the statement said, adding that the attack was the result of a coordinated online campaign of misinformation and hate speech.

As a possible consequence of that misinformation campaign, one student protester said, “They’ve been doing a lot of nonsense things like demanding better food and shelter. They shouldn’t have done that. They weren’t invited here anyway.”


From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.

The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.

The Founder of the Scientology religion is L. Ron Hubbard and Mr. David Miscavige is the religion’s ecclesiastical leader.

For more information, visit the Scientology website or Scientology Network.  

Indonesia Myanmar refugees Rohingya suppression stateless persons women and children Banda Aceh