Bangladeshi migrants currently mixed in among a group of ethnic Rohingya being held in Aceh will be sent home after it was decided the former had fled their country for better jobs, not freedom from political persecution.
The government will soon separate the Bangladeshi migrants from the Rohningyas, who have fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they have been the frequent target of attacks.
"A total of 720 Bangladeshis need to be verified, because the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has already prepared a transit location for them before they are sent home," Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said on Sunday while visiting the migrant shelter in Langsa, Aceh.
Khofifah said that refugees from Bangladesh were "job-seekers" and would thus be repatriated.
She said the question of what to do with the migrants had been discussed intensely by the Foreign Ministry, the Bangladesh Embassy and the head of the IOM mission.
According to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), there are currently 1,722 Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrants stranded in Aceh, including 244 women and 238 children. The migrants were brought ashore in Aceh between May 10 and 20 after being abandoned by human-traffickers when attempt to enter Malaysia was foiled by a Thai crackdown on long-established smuggling routes.
In coming days, Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly will fly to Medan, North Sumatra, to meet with the IOM mission chief, who has expressed a readiness to provide a place for the Bangladeshis to transit.
Yasonna said he would expedite travel documents so the Bangladeshis could be sent home immediately. This, he argued, would also help avoid potential conflicts between the Bangladeshis and the Rohingya.
"The IOM is ready to help them as long as their travel documents are completed. Within two or three days after they are completed, the plane tickets will be ready," he said.
The agency will cover the cost of flying the Bangladeshis back to their home country, according to Yasonna.
Indonesia has deployed the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the BNPB to carry out search and rescue operations for Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingya adrift at sea after drawing international outrage for initially rejecting the vessels transporting the migrants.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said the government would allocate funds to shelter the Rohingya in Aceh out of a sense of humanity.
"We still need international assurances on how this will be managed. We're also seeking support from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)," he said.
As reported by the AFP, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday slammed the country's migrants, many of whom are stranded in dire conditions at sea, calling them "mentally ill" and accusing them of hurting the country's image.
"There is sufficient work for them, and still, they are leaving the country in such a disastrous manner," Hasina was quoted as saying by the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha news agency in her first comments on the crisis.
The prime minister claimed migrants could find better lives in Bangladesh.
"They are tainting Bangladesh's image in the international arena," she added.
Hasina called on authorities to halt the flow of migrants and to take action against human traffickers.
"Along with the brokers [of human trafficking], punishment will have to be meted out to those who are leaving the country illegally," she was quoted as saying.
"You will have to conduct [...] campaigns so migrants do not give money to brokers for going abroad illegally. They are falling into a trap," she reportedly told senior government officials.
Southeast Asia is currently in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, with 2,000 migrants thought to be stranded in the Bay of Bengal, many of them at the mercy of notoriously brutal smugglers. More than 3,500 migrants have swum to shore or been rescued off the coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh since the crisis erupted earlier this month.