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FAQs about refugees

Under the United Nations’ 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention), a refugee is defined as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” (Article 1A)

An asylum seeker is the common term for a person who has applied to the Office of the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for official recognition as a refugee.

Indonesia is not party to the Refugees Convention

There are limited domestic legal protections and support services for asylum seekers. The Indonesian government indicated an intention to accede to the Refugees Convention in 2009, but this has yet to occur.

Indonesia has received refugees since 1979, when hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese asylum seekers arriving on boats were facilitated on the Indonesian island of Galang before being resettled or repatriated. However, over the past decade, Indonesia has become a key transit point for asylum seekers attempting to travel to Australia; Indonesia consequently views itself as a “victim” in terms of the unauthorised movement of asylum seekers through the region.

Although half of the world’s refugees live in urban areas, assistance services and media attention are mainly focused on refugees living in camps. Urban refugees and asylum seekers are often located in areas where they are unable to access infrastructure set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to deal with major crises, yet nevertheless have protection concerns that forced them to leave their countries of origin to escape persecution.

Asylum seekers and refugees transiting through or living temporarily in Indonesia come from all over the world. Since 2008, continuing persecution and escalating violence in countries of origin, as well as limited availability of countries offering a durable solution, has seen a steady increase in the number of asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia. It is estimated that there were only 400 asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia in 2008; on May 2015, UNHCR reported that more than 13,000 registered asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia.