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'It's impossible to do anything': Indonesia's refugees in limbo as money runs out

The Guardian - September 13, 2019

Kate Lamb in Kalideres, Jakarta – Once a military command post, the two-storey lime green building in Kalideres, West Jakarta, is now essentially a refugee camp.

More than 400 refugees are temporarily housed here in small dome tents squashed into every room and spilling out into the concrete car park. There is no running water, electricity, bathroom facilities or any certainty of food. A few days ago someone delivered biscuits, but there has been nothing since.

On the top floor refugees rest in their tents or under mosquitos nets, their few possession in plastic bags strung up on the wall.

Outside children play in the dirt while the men slowly congregate on the shaded steps to pass the time.

"I have finished everything. I have no money, no family," says 43-year-old refugee Jan Ali, throwing his hands up in the air, "How can I continue my life in any other place?"

"We don't have basic facilities, water, anything. It's impossible to do anything," says Ali. "Three days ago someone came and gave us food, for today, we don't know."

They are just one example of Indonesia's deepening refugee crisis, spurred by funding cuts that have forced hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees to camp outside immigration detention facilities, pleading to be taken inside.

Of the 14,000 refugees in the country, many are caught in a debilitating bind. Unable to legally work, they are told by the UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, that there is no money to support them. Resettlement could be decades away, if it happens at all.

The situation has been compounded by an Australian government decision last year to cut funding to the International Organisation for Migration for any new refugee arrivals.

The factors have painfully coalesced on the ground in Kalideres where, after years of waiting to be resettled, hundreds of refugees say their money has run out.

The Guardian visited Kalideres last April, where hundreds of refugees were camped on the road outside an immigration detention facility, in the hope of being allowed inside.

Some have continued to live on the street since, this July moving en masse to camp outside the UNHCR building in protest, before finally being moved to a military building, where the government provided supplies. But after more than a month, Jakarta's governor announced it was time to go.

"That electricity was cut on August 31, that is when we were supposed to go," explains Hassan Ramazan, a Hazara man from Afghanistan. "But the people here remain decided. They will stay until they are forced to go." For the hundreds of mostly ethnic Hazaras here there is nowhere else to go.

The inhabitants are now entirely reliant on charity. Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN convention of refugees so by international law is not obliged to look after refugees. In December 2016, 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 some support for refugees.

Zahra Muhammad Ali, 38, an Afghan mother of six daughters, who travelled to Indonesia after she lost her husband, says the nearby mosque has been giving her food.

But beyond basic needs, one glaring problem is the lack of things to do. After escaping conflict at home, young Hazara men now spend hours playing war games on their mobile phones. Others try and sleep the day away.

"A lot of people here are suffering from mental problems," says Mohammad Sadiq, 25, who came to Indonesia six years ago. "People are more sensitive, and they fight."

Around Indonesia, several refugees have taken their own lives in recent years. "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," says Ramazan during a tour of the camp.

Within Indonesia's refugee community there are bright sparks, skilled refugee leaders involved in a host of initiatives, holding classes for photography, art, music and even karate. With a bit of support some have flourished, while others have fallen between the cracks.

With little hope and few choices, human rights lawyer Trish Cameron says something has to give.

"People in refugee communities in Indonesia have no legal way to support themselves," says Cameron, "Options to overcome the cycle of despair and vulnerability is 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."

But on the ground in Kalideres there is no sense that any of that might happen soon.

When they were camped outside the UNHCR office, the refugees were offered a one-off payment, of 1m to 1.6m rupiah (#57 to #90) but hundreds refused, arguing they needed a long-term solution.

"The last time an officer from UNHCR came here last week, they said our message is not changed, we cannot feed you, provide a place, any shelter for you," says Ramazan. "And I said, our message, our mission and goal is unchanged, too. Do something for us otherwise close your office, resign and go home."

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/13/its-impossible-to-do-anything-indonesias-refugees-in-limbo-as-money-runs-out