They had fled armed conflict in their home regions, such as Afghanistan and Sudan, and were stranded in Indonesia while waiting for an assessment from the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR).
They occupied the sidewalks in front of and opposite the office of UNHCR, demanding a meeting with the representative. Dozens of refugees, of both genders and different age groups, crammed the street brandishing placards that bore the words “I am a refugee, I am a human too.”
Eventually, some officers of the UNHCR, accompanied by an interpreter, turned up and requested them to select a representative for communication and correspondence while calling on the rest to vacate the building premises at the earliest.
However, the refugees declined to send a representative and instead insisted that the officers come and meet them, as they were keen to demand their rights as refugees, who had been living in Indonesia for years.
“I understand your demand, but you must remember that we have our own procedure. This is not only for you but also for all refugees. Also remember that when you visit someone’s house, there are rules to obey,” the UNHCR representative, who approached them, stated.
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Those refugees, who were stuck in Indonesia, hoped to be eventually resettled in a third country, such as some Western countries and Australia since they were waiting for a long time.
One of the refugees from Somalia, named Abdul Salam, tried to share his story, “I and my wife took a boat and arrived in Medan. Then we travelled by bus to Jakarta. It was a long trip,” he spoke in English ineloquently when interviewed at Jalan Kebon Sirih Thursday.” They have been living in Indonesia since 2017.
They had escaped from war and extremists who kept harassing them in their country, he admitted.
Ruslan Ahmad, a refugee and asylum seeker from Afghanistan who has been here for four years, said the same thing. He and his friends, mostly men, have occupied the area in Kebon Sirih, and local residents have sometimes given them food.
“All the refugees came here to save themselves. We think that Indonesia is a safe haven,” he said.
He did not care about which country he would be sent to live, as long as it was safe, he added.
Indonesia has become a temporary transit point for refugees before the UNHCR determines a third country that will accommodate them.
Based on data from the UNHCR in 2017, there were 13.840 thousand refugees who entered Indonesia from various countries, mostly Afghanistan. These refugees were waiting for the UNHCR to decide which third country, such as Australia, they would be resettled in.
The two main destinations for their resettlement are the United States and Australia. However, in 2013, the Australian government adopted strict new measures to discourage refugees, immediately transferring those who made it to its shores to spartan detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and refused to ever consider them for resettlement. Hence, refugees who were about to go to Australia were stuck in Indonesia.
In addition to that bad news, in March 2018, Australia has cut off funding to refugees in Indonesia. It was previously channeled through the International Organization of Migration (IOM), which had provided humanitarian assistance, such as healthcare and food for around two-thirds of the refugees in Indonesia. Consequently, cutting off the funding raised the refugees’ burden aside from the uncertain decisions from the UNHCR.
Incidentally, Indonesia is not a party or a signatory to the Convention of the concerning the Status of Refugees, also known as the Refugee Convention 1951, which prohibits governments from repatriating people fleeing persecution to areas where they face serious threats. Nevertheless, the country has allowed certified refugees to remain here as they await resettlement in a third country. Indonesia also allows asylum seekers to wait in the country as their cases are examined by the United Nations.
The Refugee Convention 1951 is a multilateral agreement that defines refugee status and establishes individual rights to obtain asylum and the responsibility of the country that grants it.
“Indonesia is only a transit country, to accommodate migrants to their destination country,” said Agung Sampurno, a spokesman for the Directorate General of Immigration. “If the U.N. asks us to make it permanent, Indonesia cannot do so.”
Despite Indonesia’s status as neither a party nor a signatory of the Convention 1951, the country willingly helped them in the name of humanity.
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Although the regional government of Jakarta has made some efforts to provide assistance to them, Indonesia’s is not under any obligation to help refugees and provide them with shelter and food.
The Ministry of Social Affairs has provided logistical and psychosocial assistance to the refugees who originally occupied the sidewalks of Jalan Kebon Sirih, Central Jakarta. They have been partially transferred to the Islamic Center in North Jakarta and the Jakarta Legislative Council (DPRD) Building on Jalan Kebon Sirih.
"We have deployed a team from the Directorate of Social Protection for Social Disaster Victims and another from the Directorate of Social Rehabilitation," Social Affairs Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita said in Jakarta Thursday.
The government should provide assistance so that the presence of the refugees does not cause any social problems in society, he said.
Indonesia has provided humanitarian assistance to refugees from Afghanistan and other countries, Edi Suharto, Director General of Social Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said.
"We will take care of them, and our focus is especially on their children. We provide services based on the regulations,” Suharto remarked.
Meanwhile, teams from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Jakarta Social Department have been deployed to monitor the transfer of asylum seekers to DPRD Building and Islamic Center, Director General of Social Protection and Social Security at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Harry Hikmat said.
"We provide food assistance at the request of the Jakarta Social Affairs Department," Hikmat said.
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