Indonesia’s Refugee Population

“The Federal Government’s announcement this week that Australia will not resettle any refugees who registered with the United Nations in Indonesia after June 2014 is yet another step in its continuing departure from humanitarian principles and genuine regional cooperation.

Further, this latest announcement is unlikely to disrupt the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia, or their processing and resettlement by the UNHCR. There are more than 10,000 asylum seekers and refugees registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia. Most of them arrived before July 2014 and so will not be affected by the decision. Those who arrived after that date would be unlikely to be resettled immediately, since Australia only takes 450 refugees per year from Indonesia.

…it can hardly be viewed as a good faith approach to international protection or regional cooperation and responsibility sharing.”

Madeline Gleeson, Posted 21 Nov 2014, The Drum

David Manne of the Refugee and Immigration Law Centre said: “It’s an appalling decision which is likely to place more lives at risk by leaving refugees trapped in limbo or forced to flee back to the types of dangers they’ve already fled from. It also represents a fundamental shirking of our country’s obligations to share the responsibility for protecting refugees in our region.”

Paul Farrell and Nick Evershed, The Guardian, 19 November 2014

“Other experts on Indonesian law and politics have warned that the decision may have broader impacts on the region.

… within Indonesia there are over 1,000 unaccompanied refugee children who are stranded alone, vulnerable and at risk. Many ended up there in an attempt to reach their families in Australia. Some have parents who risked their lives getting to Australia by boat, so that their children could later be brought through safer resettlement channels. Legally, these children cannot be sent home to face persecution, death or torture, but nor can they languish in Indonesia. Through a combination of Australian law and policy, they are being prevented from reuniting with their families.”

Madeline Gleeson is a lawyer and research associate at the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, Posted 21 Nov 2014, The Drum

How many refugees does Australia resettle from Indonesia?

The majority of boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia depart from Indonesia, primarily because of its close geographical proximity to Australia. Though there are varying estimates of the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia, UNHCR estimates that Indonesia hosts approximately 9,500 asylum seekers and refugees as at 31 August 2014.[64] More than half of all the asylum seekers registered by UNHCR in Indonesia were from Afghanistan. The remainder were from countries such as Iran, Somalia, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.[65] Indonesia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the US State Department reports that the government prohibited refugees from working and accessing public elementary education.[66] UNHCR continues to be the primary provider of protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, undertaking responsibility for finding durable solutions, such as resettlement.

Australia resettled only 560 UNHCR referred refugees from Indonesia during the period 2001 to February 2010 (emphasis mine).

stat application for refugee status to indonesia

2011–12: 181
2012–13: 605
2013–14: 600
2014–15: 450 (planned)

Source for calendar years 2001–2009: Departmental advice provided to the Parliamentary Library in 2010; source for financial years 2010–2015: Answers to questions at Budget Estimates hearings;[68] transcript of interview with the Immigration Minister.[69]Published on the Parliament of Australia website, Elibritt Karlsen, Law and Bills Digest Section, Updated 3 February 2015.

“The UNHCR also provides figures on the rate of asylum claims that it considers well-founded. Those claiming asylum in Indonesia were overwhelmingly likely to be granted refugee status, with an average rate of 80%, well above the global rate of 32%.

Antje Missbach, a research fellow at Monash University, said the UNHCR process in Indonesia was slow and resettlement could take anywhere between two and five years.

“The last bit of hope that they had was going through a really time-consuming resettlement process, which meant they would no longer go on boats. So a lot of people in a way gave in to this much longer process, which is now quite a waste of time,” she said.

“Basically the time between the very first registration and the interview is a year, and in that time they’re not entitled to any financial support and that creates a lot of desperation. We see a lot of people sleeping on the streets or in mosques when they have run out of money.”

She said some asylum seekers were going to prison rather than living on the streets.

“What we see this year is a really strange phenomenon. Because a lot of people are running out of money they are voluntarily trying to go to prison, because they are trying not to starve,” she said.

She said the change could lead to more asylum seekers trying to come to Australia by boat.

“People might desire to take such a dangerous journey again because they feel like they have no other option,” she said.

Australia’s relationship with Indonesia has been fraught after several inadvertent naval incursions into Indonesian waters arising from Australia’s policy of towing back asylum seeker vessels.

The director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, Tim Lindsey, said the government’s decision was likely to exacerbate tension.

“This policy does nothing about the significant number of asylum seekers already in Indonesia, and that is an issue of significant concern from the Indonesian government. It is therefore likely that this policy will be met with the usual frustration in government circles in Indonesia,” he said.

“Indonesia is like a kind of bottleneck and asylum seekers there are trapped in limbo. In many cases they can’t easily go back to their countries of origin and there is a significant number of non-Indonesians trapped in Indonesia.”

The UNHCR said it was discussing the changes with the government.

“While resettlement is a limited solution and is conducted at the discretion of resettlement countries, it is an important protection tool and responsibility-sharing mechanism for the growing number of displaced people around the world,” it said.”

Paul Farrell and Nick Evershed, The Guardian, 19 November 2014

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