Primus Dorimulu, Jakarta – Bambang Soesatyo, the speaker of the House of Representatives, has reminded Australia not to avoid the responsibility of accepting refugees currently transiting in Indonesia.
Southeast Asia's largest archipelago today hosts around 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers from several countries including Afghanistan, Myanmar and Somalia.
Most of the refugees are seeking to go to Australia, but they have been held back in Indonesia for years because Australia keeps denying its commitment to the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, Bambang said.
Indonesia did not ratify the convention, but the country has gone above and beyond its responsibilities to take care of the refugees, he said.
"For the sake of humanity, we certainly want the refugees to get back on their feet as soon as possible so they can live normally like us. But, for the sake of our national interests, we cannot see this problem in absolute black and white," he said.
A large number of refugees in Indonesia occupied public spaces not designed to accommodate them, which creates all sorts of social problems including stoking tensions with locals.
There is another problem, according to Bambang: the United Nations High Commission for Refugee Affairs (UNHCR) has been short of funds. This means Indonesia has had to stretch its already strained budget to provide for the refugees and asylum seekers.
Nevertheless, Bambang said he appreciated what the UNHCR has done so far. The agency has responded the best it could to find solutions for the refugees' problems together with the Indonesian government.
"The UNHCR has demonstrated its commitment to help the refugees and to work in partnership with the Indonesian government. Recently the agency supervised the relocation of 1,400 refugees to a shelter in Kalideres in Jakarta," Bambang said.
But the House speaker said countries that have ratified the Refugee Convention must not misuse Indonesia's goodwill and turn the country into a refugee shelter. Bambang said he had asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry to convey the message to the United Nations immediately.