For six days, a group of refugees in Indonesia have maintained a protest in front the offices of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR in five cities – Jakarta, Makassar, Tanjung Pinang, Batam and Surabaya.
The refugees from the Middle East have been living in detention centres and in some cases on the streets.
Funding from Australian government to the UN refugee agency, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), to assist those in detention centres has dried up, according to human rights lawyer Trish Cameron, who is also a member of the Indonesian Refugees and Asylum Seekers Network (JAPPSI).
Last month, the number of protesters outside the UNHCR officers in central Jakarta approached 1000, prompting Indonesia’s speaker of the House of Representatives to issue a message to Australia.
Bambang Soesatyo told the Jakarta Globe that Australia should not avoid its responsibilities as a Refugee Convention member country to accept refugees in transit in Indonesia, a non-convention country.
‘We are isolated, marginalised in Indonesia’
Refugees involved in the protests were from Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Myanmar, Iran and Iraq.
Afghan refugee JN Jonaid said his six years in Indonesia have been frustrating and exhausting.
“We are frustrated and exhausted due to this unending waiting game of resettlement, confined in an open prison and effectively denied their fundamental human rights, such as the right to work, right to education, and right to movement,” he said.
“We are demanding a solution from both local and international government–resettlement to third countries and legal integration in Indonesia. Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention, and we are isolated from the rest of Indonesian society and kept marginalised.”
He said refugees registered with the UN before March 2018 received a monthly allowance of (A$100) a month from the IOM. But those who not registered “are completely destitute and sleep on the streets”.
March 2018 marks the date when the Australian government cut funding to the IOM for any refugees or asylum seekers who were newly arriving beyond that date. That has left 5,000 refugees in Indonesia without any formal assistance.
“We rely on the people who believe in refugee and human rights, whether they are in Indonesia or Australia, to support us,” JN Jonaid said.
Australia urged to do more
Under a bilateral agreement between Australia and Indonesia, the Indonesian government has agreed to intercept and detain asylum seekers bound for Australia.
As Indonesia is not a member of the Refugee Convention, the country’s officials refer asylum seekers to the IOM for case management who can then refer them onto the UNHCR to make asylum claims. As an intergovernmental body, the IOM receives funding from governments, including the Australian government.
The Regional Cooperation Arrangement (RCA) from 2004 had an increasing emphasis on detention, facilitated by the IOM and using Australian funds.
The 2016 Bali Declaration on People Smuggling saw a shift to tackling people smuggling over refugee protection. The 2016 agreement also establishes that the refugee protection pathway is to be handled through international non-state actors.
Mark Goudkamp from the Refugee Action Coalition urged the Australian government to do more to help the refugees in limbo in Indonesia.
“Australia is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, but it has extended its policies of refugee deterrence to Indonesia, freezing resettlement for anyone registered with the UN since July 2014. Their policies are treating the close to 15,000 refugees in Indonesia as indefinite hostages.
“It’s shameful that at the same time Australia is funding so-called ‘Assisted Voluntary Return’. The refugees fear to go back to our countries as wars and conflicts are still ongoing there.”
Indonesia hosts around 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers from countries including Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia.