[ISG] Acehnese hospitality towards Rohingya refuges: welcoming victims, strangers, brothers, or aid recipients?


In the Indonesia Study Group (ISG) seminar on 10 May, Dr Antje Missbach from Monash University talks about a group of about a thousand Rohingya refugees stranded in Aceh on May 2015. This group is treated differently from many other asylum seekers and refugees residing in different parts of Indonesia. She argues, both in this talk and in her paper, that Acehnese motivations are not necessarily as altruistic as they are widely claimed to be. Instead, the actors engaged in a subtle instrumentalisation of hospitality for non-refugee related purposes. Her argument is built on a framework of hospitality, ‘facets of hospitality,’ as she calls it. Helping Rohingya refugee is one way to return the favour for the help that the Acehnese fisherman received, especially during the Tsunami disaster and, for some of them, when they were in exile for.

The gift of hospitality is also the opportunity to gain social status and honour for the person who provides both in the eye of the individual who receives the hospitality but also to the non-involve observer. Antje argues that it is not coincidental whenever Aceh Governor makes a public statement he always says, “This is our possibility to show to the world that we are capable of helping people in distress.”

Hospitality can also be seen as an act of resistance. In Aceh case, extending support to the Rohingya refugee is also a subtle act of resisting the government in Jakarta in its refugee policies. One example, Antje offers, is the fact that the fisherman goes go out and helps the refugees even though the order from the military is not to rescue. On another example, “Some Acehnese marry Rohingya refugees, this is not allowed in Indonesia’s law,” Antje explains.

Finally, hospitality can also be seen as a way of income generation for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Aceh. Paradoxically this form of hospitality tries to prolong the stay of the recipients of hospitality. The NGOs in Aceh are quite high in rank relative to other aid-NGOs in Indonesia due to their experiences during the Tsunami disaster. They have learnt quite well on how to make the donations flowing. Due to this reason, the hardship experienced by the Rohingya is often over-emphasised.

The presentation material for this discussion can be downloaded here, and for the podcast here.