Andaman Sea Crisis: Humanitarian Assistance to Stranded Migrants in Indonesia and Thailand

Shelter, along with food and clothing are considered to be the three absolute minimum resources necessary for any person’s long-term physical well-being. For migrants fleeing from conflict or disasters, shelter usually comes in the form of rudimentary tents hastily built to accommodate large numbers of people. While basic enough to provide enough protection from the elements, such structures are meant to be temporary and deteriorate over time due to wear and tear. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) strongly believe that proper shelter is an essential need that migrants deserve.

Last year’s Andaman Sea Crisis in May 2015 saw boatloads of desperate migrants landing on the shores of Southeast Asia. In Indonesia, about 2000 migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar were rescued and brought to shore by local fishermen and the Indonesian Navy. All were transferred to and housed in temporary shelters areas where they received support from the Indonesian authorities and IOM through funding from ECHO. Today, 285 migrants remain and are housed in five shelter areas in Aceh and Northern Sumatra – all of which are supported by IOM. 

Apart from providing both food and non-food items such as fans, mattresses, pillows and hygiene kits, IOM also builds shelters for the migrants. At the Bireun Bayeun Shelter Area in Langsa, new shelters were recently built using ECHO funding for longer term use. Designed by IOM’s senior engineer in Medan, each shelter measures 4.88m x 7.32m x 2.44m in size. Features include windows, power sockets, tiled floors, wooden walls, a zinc roof and a terrace. Built in accordance with cultural practices of the migrants, the shelters are constructed with a common space in mind with no partitions. Migrants share the space with each other, sleeping on 10 metal platform beds with mattresses and pillows with two wall fans providing air circulation.

Prior to this, many were sleeping on the ground in makeshift tents donated by the local government. The tents offered only basic protection in cramped quarters. After months of heavy rainfall and extensive use, many were leaking water and essentially dilapidated. Rather than replacing these tents, IOM opted to design and construct temporary shelters that are more durable and conducive for realities on the ground.

Time was a factor in the process as the shelters needed to be constructed as soon as possible. The winning contractors were able to fully construct the shelters in a span of two weeks. To date, each shelter houses eight single male migrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar with a total of 56 being housed collectively.