Jakarta, 14 May 2014 — With reports of more “turn backs” of boats under Australian border security operations, Suaka, the Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection, urges Indonesia to commit to upholding human rights in the region. As a leading democratic country in Southeast Asia, Indonesia must take a strong stance against “turn backs” policies.
Since Australia’s general election in 2013, the country’s refugee and asylum seeker policy has changed significantly. It now includes returning asylum seekers to Indonesia, either on their original boats or following transfer to new vessels Australia has purchased for that purpose. This is in breach of international law.
Mr Muhammad Hafiz, UN-OIC Advocacy Program Manager, Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) and Co-Chair of Suaka, welcomed Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa’s clear statement that Australia’s actions violates the human rights of asylum seekers. “The statements from His Excellency the Foreign Minister show that Indonesia is taking a strong leadership role in highlighting the importance of human rights in establishing a regional solution on asylum seekers and refugees,” said Mr Hafiz.
Regional measures must focus on human rights
The Government of Indonesia has committed to the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime and the Jakarta Declaration on Irregular Movement of Persons, both of which are important regional cooperation frameworks that address the complex problems trafficking and smuggling. It must be remembered, however, that victims of trafficking are different to asylum seekers and refugees. This latter group are forced to leave their home countries in order to live safely and securely. Many asylum seekers and refugees would rather live in their country of origin rather than travel away from home, and ultimately do not wish to migrate.
Suaka notes that the protection of asylum seekers and refugees is a regional human rights issue that goes beyond merely focusing on crime and protecting the sovereignty of individual countries’ borders. Suaka urges the Government of Indonesia to ensure that measures put in place provide fundamental human rights protections as well as adequate support and assistance for asylum seekers and refugees, rather than leaving them without any hope or means of survival.
Realities for refugees
Public opinion in Australia has unfortunately become poisoned over several years on the issue of asylum seekers, with those who try to reach its shores by boat considered a threat to national security. Australian policy over several governments have penalised asylum seekers for trying to seek protection outside of “regular channels”.
However, the idea of “regular channels” is at odds with the realities of the forced migration that occurs when people must flee human rights violations. One of the key mechanisms of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention) is a status determination process for asylum seekers who arrive at the borders of a state party. It is Australia’s obligation to abide by international law no matter what it thinks about asylum seekers.
Mr Febionesta, Director of Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) Co-Chair of Suaka said “Asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia are not permitted to work, and receive no social benefits from the Government of Indonesia. The Government of Indonesia permits refugees to stay here while they have current documents from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).” There are around 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia and Suaka applauds the efforts of the UNHCR in Indonesia as it tries to find durable solutions for these people.
For various reasons, some people may choose the make the dangerous boat journey to Australia in an attempt to seek effective protection there. However, the Australian Government, as a signatory to the Refugees Convention, cannot exempt itself from its obligations under international law by labelling the asylum seekers as “illegal immigrants” and pushing them back to Indonesia. Australia, as a party to the Refugees Convention, has to comply to the principle of non-refoulement that goes along with the principle of non-rejection and non-expulsion.
Indonesia’s human rights obligations
Suaka also urges the Government of Indonesia to ensure that refugee rights are upheld under Indonesia’s existing human rights obligations, including: non-refoulement (art 3 Convention Against Torture, as well as in the Indonesian Constitution), non-discrimination (art 3 Human Rights Law No. 39 of 1999, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)) and freedom of movement (art 27 Human Rights Law, and ICCPR).
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Director of Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) and Co-Chair of Suaka
UN-OIC Advocacy Program Manager, Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) and Co-Chair of Suaka