COVID-19 and the Rohingyas: Islamic Solidarity and Bottom-Up Initiatives in Aceh

By: Nia Deliana

Aceh is a region at the northern tip of Sumatra, Indonesia, located in a strategic
geographic area where wind directions rule the maritime compass between the
Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. These environmental circumstances have
destined boats of Rohingya refugees to become stranded near Aceh’s coastal
areas, as witnessed in 2008, 2009, 2015, 2018, 2020, and 2021.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous countries
tightened their sea-border controls. In mid-April 2020, 382 Rohingya refugees at
the maritime borders of Malaysia and Thailand were rejected entry because of
concerns regarding the spread of the novel coronavirus. Meanwhile, Aceh
Province was under political transition from local governing parties to a national
one; Nova Iriansyah, vice governor from the Democratic Party, was appointed
acting governor and responsible for the refugee emergency.

The boat, which arrived in North Aceh on June 24, 2020, was carrying ninety
four people: fifteen men, forty-nine women, and thirty children. According to
Muhammad Yanis, a member of the nonprofit Geutanyoe Foundation, it was
only on June 26, 2020, after Acehnese people insisted that the local district gov
ernment of North Aceh take charge and allocate care for them, that the regent
released a statement that the government would fulfill their needs, treat the sick,
and provide measures for an appropriate response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On June 4, 2021, another boat carrying eighty-one refugees arrived after being
stranded in the Bay of Bengal for 113 days.


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