Indonesia is not a signatory member of the 1951 Refugee Convention, but it hosts 14,000 registered refugees, as per UNHCR records. However, Indonesia surprised the world in December 2016, when President Joko Widodo filled a legal vacuum by issuing a decree to ensure that refugees are not arbitrarily expelled or returned to their country of origin. Jakarta’s governor signed a presidential regulation on the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees that allows local governments to draw from their budgets to offer support to refugees.
Immigration detention centers are largely dreaded by refugees in every country. On the contrary, refugees in Indonesia request to be taken into immigration centers because of the huge funding gap from Australia. This funding cut has forced hundreds of homeless refugees to make this uncommon plea, the Guardian reports.
Strangely, a former military house in Kalideres, West Jakarta, has become a temporary home for more than 400 refugees. Refugees commonly live with no running water, electricity, bathroom facilities or assurance of food. They are squeezed into dome-like tents in every room and in the car park. This is an example of the deplorable conditions.
The Guardian added some heartbreaking comments from refugees. 43-year-old refugee Jan Ali, in dismay, explained, “I have finished everything. I have no money, no family. How can I continue my life in any other place?”
Another refugee, Ali, corroborated by saying, “We don’t have basic facilities, water, anything. It is impossible to do anything. Three days ago, someone came and gave us food, for today, we don’t know”.
Despite this huge challenge for them to depend on charity for food and maintenance, 38-year-old Afghan widow and mother of six daughters, Zahra Muhammad Ali, remains grateful to the nearby Mosque that has been giving her food.
It is also medically suffocating, as some refugees have developed mental illnesses or have committed suicide. Ramazan recounted by saying, “When I came here, I saw some of my friends from Afghanistan and Pakistan, they were not the same. They forget their words. You sit with them for an hour and you see that they are not normal. They are angry and depressed”.
Human rights lawyer, Trish Cameron, states that “people in refugee communities in Indonesia have no legal way to support themselves.” He proposes that the “options to overcome the cycle of despair and vulnerability [are] either to allow work rights so refugees can support themselves, or commit to the provision of long-term ongoing support from governments, or non-government agencies.” He suggests that these should be considered by the Indonesian government.
As much as the Indonesian government can be applauded for partially supporting refugees and allowing them immigrant status, it is also imperative for the government to consider long-term measures. They can either grant conditional work visas in fields where refugees have skills or allow them to own local businesses. It is a stretch to request the government to sign and join the refugee convention, but as the fourth most populous country in the world, housing thousands of refugees, it would be an exemplary decision for other Southeast Asian countries. Realistic budgetary policies must be made to support refugees.
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