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Update on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Indonesia

by Suaka Indonesia on 23/07/2014

As of 30 June 2014, a total of 10,116 individuals were registered by UNHCR in Indonesia, including 6,286 asylum seekers and 3,830 refugees. Of those, 7,910 were male and 2,206 were female. The total includes 2,507 children; 798 are unaccompanied minors and separated children. The main countries of origin are Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq.

UNHCR reported a decrease in the trend of registrations, with 32% fewer registrations in the first six months of 2014 than 2013. However, there continues to be a significant backlog in the processing of applications for Refugee Status Determination. The most recent figures show 4,868 individuals were waiting for their first instance RSD interview at the end of June 2014, and the average waiting period from registration to first instance interview is between 8 and 19 months.

As a non-Convention state, Indonesia does not allow asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia work rights or social support. A small number receive assistance through UNHCR’s implementing partner or other charities. IOM also provides accommodation and support, although statistics are not available. With budgets for support services and assistance severely limited, asylum seekers and refugees have been self-surrendering to detention centres in desperation, as reported by Al Jazeera English:

While allowing asylum seekers and refugees in the country as long as they are undergoing the UNHCR process, the Government of Indonesia does not allow for local integration and only supports voluntary repatriation and resettlement as durable solutions. In the first half of 2014, 438 refugees departed for resettlement while 806 refugees have been submitted and a further 1,130 refugees were waiting for a decision by resettlement states.

The Government of Indonesia started taking steps to regulate its policies and procedures for refugees and asylum seekers in 2012, progress has stalled; this is most likely the result of Parliamentary and Presidential elections in 2014. Much of the policy discourse continues to focus on border protection considerations, particularly as a result of Australia’s policies of forcibly turning back boats or returning asylum seekers by vessels purchased for that purchase.

Conditions in detention centres continue to be a concern, especially in relation to overcrowding and the detention of people with vulnerabilities and access to legal advice. There are 11 main immigration centres located right across the archipelago – with no uniform policies or procedures in place regulating conditions. IOM and the Indonesian Ministry of Immigration are responsible for detention centres, although UNHCR has access. UNHCR reported that 1,786 persons (1,352 asylum seekers and 434 refugees) were in immigration detention as of 30 June 2014. This figure included 247 female and 358 children (with 157 unaccompanied minors). The National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) had intended to publish a report into monitoring visits to certain detention centres at the end of 2013, but it is understood that this report has not yet been finalized.

On the question of regional approaches to addressing refugee numbers, UNHCR’s Representative in Indonesia has been quoted in media reports highlighting that:

“deterrence is not a sustainable solution… As long as the countries of origin continue to produce refugees, and they continue to choose Southeast Asia as a destination, the burden will remain in Indonesia and the rest of the region. What we need is a regional solution. … When policies and practices are based primarily on deterrence, they can have harmful and, at times, punishing consequences for people affected, particularly families and children.”

SUAKA, the Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection, a voluntary network of committed organizations and individuals, has started consolidating its efforts to promote refugee rights concerns in Indonesia. Suaka launched a website in the first half of the year and will continue to raise public awareness of the situation of refugees in the country as well as develop its plans for legal aid, community empowerment and policy advocacy. SUAKA members attended several APPRN capacity-building trainings throughout the first half of the year and have started discussions with UNHCR, APPRN and IDC to collaborate on the UNHCR’s “Beyond Detention” global strategy in Indonesia.