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VOA Asia Weekly: Island May House Rohingya Refugees in Indonesia

VOA Asia Weekly: Island May House Rohingya Refugees in Indonesia
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Pacific island Nauru switches diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China. Prosecution calls first witness in national security trial of Hong Kong media executive. North Korea says it tested solid-fuel missile tipped with hypersonic weapon. Brunei royal wedding.

Rohingya refugees seek housing on an Indonesian island that once housed Vietnamese refugees.

Welcome to VOA Asia Weekly. I'm Chris Casquejo in Washington. That story is coming up, but first, making headlines:

Taiwan lost another diplomatic ally to China after the Pacific island of Nauru cut ties with Taiwan to establish diplomatic relations with China. China offered Nauru 100 million dollars in annual economic assistance to switch diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing. This move comes days after the self-governing island of Taiwan elected William Lai, the candidate of ruling Democratic Progressive Party, as president.

“We recommend that President Marcos read more books to correctly understand the ins and outs of the Taiwan issue and draw correct conclusions.”

China warned the Philippines not to play with fire on the Taiwan issue. In a post on “X,” President Ferdinand Marcos congratulated William Lai on his election last Saturday and anticipated “close collaboration” with him. China asserts that President Marcos’s comment violates the One China principle and interferes with China’s internal affairs.

The first prosecution witness testified in the Hong Kong National Security case against media tycoon Jimmy Lai. Cheung Kim-hung said on Wednesday that Lai had instructed him to call for people to join protests in 2019. Cheung was one of 6 Apple News executives who pleaded guilty in November 2022 to colluding with Lai to request foreign entities “to impose sanctions or blockade, or engage in other hostile activities” against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments between July 2020 and June 2021. Cheung and the other 5 face a maximum sentence of life in prison but are expected to receive lesser penalties because of their guilty pleas.

North Korea launched a test of a solid-fuel missile tipped with a hypersonic warhead Sunday, marking the North’s first test launch of the year. South Korea and Japan detected the ballistic missile launch from a site near North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. The North Korean Central News Agency stated that the test was successful but did not provide details.

The U.N. estimates more than a million Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in successive waves. And while most ended up in neighboring Bangladesh, some have taken boats to Indonesia where authorities are now considering using an island once used for resettlement of Vietnamese refugees. VOA's Ahadian Utama has more.

It’s very quiet these days, on Galang Island, a small island some 40 kilometers from the main island of Batam in Indonesia's Riau Islands, and only around 84 kilometers from neighboring Singapore.

These barracks are the only remaining structure that used to house Vietnamese refugees.

“There used to be thousands of barracks here, but now only one remains. The others are now destroyed, because they are made of wood…”

50-year-old Abunawas Tanawolo was a security guard at the former refugee camp and has lived on the island since childhood. He remembers playing with Vietnamese children from the camp and was very close to one family of Vietnamese refugees.

From 1979 to 1996, this island was home to Vietnamese refugees fleeing conflict in their homeland, mostly by boat, along with some Cambodians and Laotians doing the same. By some estimates, some 250 thousand refugees once called this island their temporary home.

What remains now are crumbling empty buildings, like this former Indonesian Red Cross Hospital, an old Vietnamese Catholic Church, and a cemetery for Vietnamese refugees who died before being able to be resettled. The site is now a memorial and tourist attraction. But the island itself is now finding itself at the center of a debate about a new wave of refugees.

Indonesian authorities are now considering Galang Island to house Muslim Rohingya refugees, fleeing Myanmar by boat, and arriving in nearby Aceh Province, in the westernmost part of the Indonesian archipelago. In Aceh, their arrival has received a fierce backlash.

Some Galang islanders are concerned about the resettlement proposal.

“We as locals, object to Rohingya refugees being placed here, because there will be consequences for us. Because even people in Aceh are uneasy with the presence of Rohingya refugees there.”

According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of Rohingya refugees who entered Indonesia via Aceh since November reached more than 1,500 people.

Ahadian Utama, VOA News, Batam, Indonesia.

Visit for the most up-to-date stories.

I’m Chris Casquejo.

Finally, love is in the air.

Brunei held a royal banquet ceremony on Monday to celebrate the wedding of Prince Abdul Mateen, son of the world's longest-reigning monarch Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

Thanks for watching VOA Asia Weekly.