Deadly Burma Asylum-Seeker Clash Spurs Call for Reform

By Markus Junianto Sihaloho 8 April 2013

JAKARTA — Following the deadly clash between Burma Buddhists and Muslims in a Medan detention center on Friday that left eight people dead, the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights was urged to review its methods of managing immigrants.

“The current management of the immigration detention centers should be reviewed,” Aboebakar Al-Habsyi, a member of House of Representatives Commission III, overseeing legal affairs, said on Friday evening.

He added that a ministerial decree issued in 2004 about the detention center management clearly stipulated that immigration officials must ensure safety and order in the detention centers.

“The decree gives authority to immigration officers to isolate and transfer detainees from one center to another,” he said. “Had it been done properly, this incident would not have happened.”

Aboebakar also called on Justice and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin to conduct a thorough investigation of the Medan detention center clash to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

“The results of the investigation and evaluation can be used to improve the management of the 13 detention centers in Indonesia,” he said.

The deadly clash allegedly started when Rohingya Muslims launched an attack at the immigration center, using weapons fashioned from bits of bedding and broom handles after seeing pictures of recent religious violence in Myanmar that left dozens dead.

Immigration center official Rida Agustian said the entrance to the block where the detainees were being held was sealed off to stop officers from intervening as the deadly attack was launched in the early hours.

When officers finally entered, they found “blood spattered on the walls and in pools on the floor,” he said.

Agustian said 15 people, believed to Rohingya, were injured during the violence at the center, where 106 of them are being held.

The attack happened after the detainees saw images of violence between non-Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in central Burma from last month that left at least 43 people dead and many Muslim homes and mosques destroyed, Belawan Port Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Endro Kiswanto told AFP.

“They managed to see some photos of the violence in Myanmar, including buildings on fire,” Endro said.

He said all eight Buddhist men were dead when police arrived at the detention center in the early hours of Friday morning. Twenty-five detainees and 30 other witnesses were being questioned by police.

Efforts to question those involved have been hampered by the language barrier, he said.

Yusuf Umardani, head of the detention center, said the photos sparked an argument between the Buddhists and Rohingya, during which a Rohingya cleric was stabbed.

The recent events in Burma were the worst since an eruption of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Arakan last year that left scores dead and tens of thousands, mainly Muslims, displaced.

The Rohingya have been described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, and violent episodes have accelerated their flow from Burma, with an increasing number arriving on Indonesian shores.