Indonesia is committed to improve its handling of asylum seekers and refugees, but with a proviso that it will not host them forever, director general of immigration Ronny F. Sompie said on Monday (24/07).
Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention – a United Nations treaty that defines the term “refugees,” outlines their rights, and obligations of receiving countries to protect them – has been criticized for its poor treatment of the displaced, as both the central government and local administrations see hosting refugees as straining their already tight budgets.
“The global refugee crisis needs to be addressed thoroughly by participating in problem-solving while keeping Indonesia’s national sovereignty and interests in mind,” Ronny said in a panel discussion on the implementation of the 2016 Presidential Regulation (Perpres) No. 125 – the only legal instrument the country has to handle asylum seekers and refugees.
Data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows there are about 14,000 displaced in Indonesia, half of them from Afghanistan. The figure is still tiny compared to 22 million refugees worldwide, or even to hundreds of thousands hosted by Thailand and Malaysia.
In 2016, Indonesia was severely criticized when the provincial government of Aceh did not allow Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka to disembark, and for its treatment of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
Many refugees have left Indonesia, which was for them a place of transit, yet many more remain on a long wait list for resettlement in Western countries, which are increasingly unwilling to receive them.
According to Ronny, the presidential regulation ensures that shelter and security will be provided to refugees and asylum-seekers in Indonesia, and their basic needs will be met as they the UNHCR processes their relocation. He added that stronger cooperation will now be forged with local and international organizations that help the displaced.
The long process takes between two and six years, yet not everyone will be lucky enough to resettle in a better and safer place. Some will be deported to their home countries.
“The government has no obligation to fulfill the rights of refugees […] This is a temporary process, they will not stay long in Indonesia as integration is not part of our policy,” said Dicky Komar, director of human rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ronny and Dicky rebutted allegations that the government of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country treats refugees and asylum seekers as illegal migrants.
Ronny said the presidential regulation gives clear instructions on the roles of ministries, governmental agencies and international organizations in the process.
“Although we have not ratified the convention on refugees and asylum-seekers, we behave as if we had ratified it. We are committed to protecting their human rights, and we don’t treat them as criminals,” he added.
Monday’s discussion was also attended by representatives from the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
“Here in Indonesia, the government is taking responsibility and reaffirming its commitment to provide a safe place for refugees until longer term solutions can be found,” UNHCR representative in Indonesia, Thomas Vargas, said.
World Refugee Crisis
According to UNHCR’s 2016 Global Trends Report, more than 65 million people across the globe had been forcibly displaced from their homes, around 22 million of them are refugees.
The unprecedented number of the displaced, according to Vargas, has been caused by the continuation of old conflicts and the emergence of new ones.
Every year on June 20, more than 100 countries observe World Refugee Day. This year, UNHCR Indonesia collaborated with the Directorate General of Immigration in hosting an event on July 24-25, which featured exhibitions “Celebrating Diversity #WithRefugees” and “Four Decades of Protecting Refugees,” the latter highlighting Indonesia’s and UNHCR’s humanitarian efforts in providing a safe space for the displaced.