Rohingya children stuck in Indonesian camps call for freedom to move
A girl colors pictures with her friends during our activity in our child friendly space in a refugee camp in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo credit: Geutanyoe Foundation/Save the Children
JAKARTA, 8 February 2023 – Rohingya refugee children who have been forced to flee Bangladesh and Myanmar are now asking authorities in Indonesia for more freedom to leave overcrowded, temporary shelters as the numbers arriving increase, says Save the Children.
Children living in two refugee camps in Aceh, the westernmost province of Indonesia, told staff during a consultation last month by Save the Children and a local partner organisation that they wanted “more freedom of movement” and “to go outside the camp.”
They said their main concerns living in the camps in Aceh were access to clothing, a decent place to live and to be able to learn in a safe environment.
Last year 4,500 desperate Rohingya refugees embarked on dangerous sea journeys, a 22 % jump from a year earlier, of which about more than a third of those were children, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR. 
About 569 refugees were reported dead or missing, the highest number since 2014 when the number reached 730.
At least 1,700 Rohingya refugees, more than 70% of them women and children, have landed in Aceh and North Sumatra since November with the camps there becoming more and more overcrowded.
Imran*, 14, a Rohingya refugee boy in a camp in Aceh, spent about 4 weeks at sea when the boat he was on ran out of supplies three days before landing in Indonesia.
“I was worried and everyone on our boat was also worried. In our boat there was not much food left,” he said.
Imran told staff he hopes to study at university to become a doctor, a lawyer or to work for a non-governmental organization.
Rohingya children and their families in Indonesia have also been subject to both physical and online violence with rising tensions in Southeast Asia over a migration crisis that saw thousands of Rohingya trying to escape Bangladesh and Myanmar last year.
In December more than 100 Indonesian students broke through police lines, physically assaulted Rohingya refugees, forced them onto trucks and took them to immigration demanding that they be deported.
In the Aceh camps, Save the Children has set up safe spaces where children can play and recover with support from our local partner, the Geutanyoe Foundation, but cramped living conditions and the need for more shelters remains a problem.
Other activities that aim to support Rohingya children in Aceh include sports, watching films and body mapping- a creative activity where children are encouraged to draw images, symbols and words representing their lived experiences.
Kurwiany Ukar, Interim CEO of Save the Children Indonesia, said:
“Save the Children Indonesia has been responding since November to provide life-saving interventions to children in Aceh but there is still so much more to do. These children are in desperate need of assistance to survive and receive protection.”
Sultana Begum, Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Manager for Save the Children in Asia said:
“Rohingya children who have landed in Indonesia are incredibly scared after the journeys that they have had to endure. The Indonesia government has shown compassion and humanity by taking in the refugees and should continue its support. Other regional governments must also step up and work together with Indonesia, to rescue, assist and protect the Rohingya, including from violent attacks and orchestrated campaigns on social media which put their safety at risk.”
Most Rohingya refugees have left from Bangladesh where more than one million are living in the world’s largest refugee settlement since fleeing Myanmar six years ago.
Save the Children has called on the international community to step up financial contributions and ensure the humanitarian response plan for the Rohingya refugees, is fully funded, and support given to meet the emergency needs of Rohingya refugees arriving in Indonesia.
The agency is also calling on governments to explore options for large-scale third country resettlement and for Bangladesh and regional governments to expand formal employment and educational opportunities for Rohingya refugees and the host communities.
Save the Children is one of the leading international NGOs working in the Cox’s Bazar camps in Bangladesh. It has reached about 600,000 Rohingya refugees, including more than 320,000 children, since the response began in 2017.
Notes to editors
- Save the Children with its local partner, the Geutanyoe Foundation, ran a consultation with children in two of the Rohingya refugee camps in Aceh in December 2023 and January 2024. The consultation included body mapping - a creative activity where children are guided through filling in an outline of themselves on paper and are encouraged to draw images, symbols and words representing their lived experiences.
The Geutanyoe Foundation (Yayasan Geutanyoe) is a non-profit organization based in Aceh, Indonesia. It is dedicated to cultivating and upholding values of dignity, humanity, equality, justice, peace, democracy, and sustainability in Indonesia.
*Name changed to protect anonymity.
We have a spokesperson available.
For further enquiries please contact:
Amy Lefevre, Global Media Manager, Asia: Amy.Lefevre@savethechildren.org
Our media out of hours (BST) contact is firstname.lastname@example.org / +44(0)7831 650409
Please also check our Twitter account @Save_GlobalNews for news alerts, quotes, statements, and location Vlogs.
 However, given the difficulty of tracking those embarking and disembarking boats, not to mention those who die at sea, these figures are approximate.
 Human Rights Watch https://www.hrw.org/news/2024/01/16/indonesia-protect-newly-arrived-rohingya-refugees