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Indonesia must enact long-term solutions for refugees

Tempo - March 21, 2020

Matthew LoCastro & Diovio Alfath – The UNHCR data says there are about 13,657 persons registered at the UNHCR Indonesia as refugees or asylum seekers. These individuals represent 43 different countries (primarily Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Myanmar, and Palestine) and are spread across several cities in Indonesia, concentrated in the Greater Jakarta Area, Medan, and Makassar.

As the global refugee crisis continues to reach the shores of Indonesia, the Indonesian government must enact regulations focusing on livelihood activities, permitting opportunities in the labour market and educational community. The Indonesian Government must shift its perspective away from only providing temporary refuge. Where resettlement or repatriation are not options, integration is needed to protect the rights of refugees and support the economy of Indonesia.

Seeking asylum in Indonesia is an established constitutional right protected under the 4th Amendment of the 1945 Indonesian Constitution, stipulating that every person shall have the right to obtain political asylum. Building upon this legal foundation, the Indonesian 1999 Human Rights Law No. 39 Year 1999 affirmed that all people are entitled to the right to seek asylum. Furthermore, seeking asylum is governed under article 25-27 Chapter VI of the Foreign Relations Act No. 37 Year 1999 which determines that asylum shall be granted by the President with the considerations and advice of the Ministers and referring to international laws and customs. With a new and ongoing wave of refugees arriving in Indonesia since 2015, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo implemented his administration's granted mandate by signing the Presidential Decree No. 125 Year 2016 on the Handling of Foreign Refugees.

The decree was enacted with the intention to respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. However, it failed to create detailed guidelines or a framework for a long-term response to the presence of refugees in Indonesia. Countries across the globe have actively reduced the number of refugees they are willing to accept from transit countries, creating a back-log of migrants in Indonesia.

Human Rights activist groups, such as Sandya Institute, have reported and emphasised that refugees and asylum-seekers live in extremely vulnerable situations, with limited access to basic rights such as decent accommodation, food, education, and healthcare. Refugees need access to an adequate standard of living and education to continue their life and prepare for their futures. Recently published research, by the Sandya Institute, captured survey data from over 16% of the working-age refugee population in Indonesia to provide a comprehensive report and policy recommendations for the Indonesian government concerning the livelihood status of refugees. The recommendations focus on developing temporary work and educational opportunities based on prior employment, skill development, and education, demonstrating the benefits refugees could have for Indonesia's economic growth.

Primary findings showed that across all circumstances, refugees face expenses that exceed any aid provided. The report also emphasised that the cost of caring for refugees will continue to increase as other factors such as mental health, wellness, and housing costs are passed along to the Indonesian government in the potential absence of international aid. If Indonesia is to successfully manage refugees living within its borders, policymakers need to implement self-reliant programmes, such as apprenticeships and entrepreneurship opportunities.

In order to allow refugees to engage in apprenticeship opportunities, ministerial regulations should state that such opportunities can be pursued and facilitated by interested organisations. The definition of an apprenticeship opportunity would be paid temporary training positions within an existing corporation, university, or the like. Currently, such opportunities have not been formally allowed. In such a scenario, it would be reasonable for the government to set parameters on potential pay for a particular position. The parameters are essential to ensure that payment is sufficient to support the livelihoods of the refugees.

While some employment opportunities may be restricted based on the industries' categorisation, it is important that sectors related to community services and retail remain unrestricted. The nature of these sectors will allow refugees to seek temporary work, but also not directly compete with the Indonesian workforce.

Another area of focus is individually-run business, which needs to be considered in two parts. The first involves formally-run businesses and the second involves those that operate in informal markets. For refugees to operate a business within the formal market, eligibility and investment requirements should be lessened. The waiver of requirements would only apply to those holding a UNHCR issued identity card with temporary residence. Through the establishment of formal business practices, the government would be able to collect tax revenue, support economic growth, and capture the benefits of hosting refugees.

Concerning the allowance of informal business operations in the grey market, the only directive that needs to be considered is one that allows for such business to exist without fear of arrest or detention by local authorities. Explicitly stating that business can operate in the grey market will also benefit local economies and bring a large share, if not a majority, of refugees into a position to seek self-sustaining opportunities.

In regards to educational access, there has been a multi-year collaboration effort among the UN Agencies, Indonesian Government, and Civil Society Organizations to ensure that refugee children can benefit from basic education. Today, 10% of refugee children are able to access some form of basic education, however, many barriers remain in integration, quality control, consistency, and accessibility. Concerning higher education, the Sandya Institute research indicated the strong desire amongst refugees to have access to high school or tertiary educational opportunities. Unfortunately, registration, even for those that can afford these opportunities, remains a problem as UNHCR identification is not accepted for registration purposes and refugees continue to be categorized as international students despite being unable to provide the required records for enrolment.

Cities across Indonesia have indicated a positive attitude towards refugees, and seek to advance the interest of both Indonesians and refugees through collaboration. The urgency to enact these reforms should be a priority for the Indonesian government, not only from the aspect of human rights but also to avoid social unrest amongst refugees that are struggling to support their livelihoods in Indonesia.

The authors

Diovio Alfath is a human rights specialist and Founder of Sandya Institute. He served at the World Bank as an expert contributor in 2019. For his human rights advocacy, he was honoured with the 2018 Global Emerging Young Leaders Award by the U.S Department of State in Washington DC.

Matthew LoCastro is a research manager for the Sandya Institute and a Luce Scholar with the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia. He has focused his research at the intersection of forced migration, sustainability, and regional planning. He is from New York.


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