Living in Uncertainty: Refugees in Indonesia

Why is it important talking about refugee issue?

According to UNHCR, there are approximately 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. The rise of conflicts and war in countries such as Syria, Myanmar, South Sudan have driven huge number of people to flee from their area/ home country and force them to seek protection across international borders. This is the refugee crisis.

Refugee crisis needs to be addressed with participation of many stakeholders. We cannot expect solely on the government or UNHCR to address this issue. Before we look further into this issue, we should know about the term refugee which often mistaken to have the same definition as migrants. Refugees are people fleeing their home country due to persecution or conflict whereas migrants are those who choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons ( War and fear of persecution are the two main reasons these refugees flee from their area or country. They are often subjected to target killing or death threats and most of them have lost their family members due to this.

The journey they took from their country to the transit country was not easy either. They had to sell everything they have so that they can have people smuggled them to the transit country.

What’s the Refugee situation now in Indonesia?

According to UNHCR there are approximately 14.000 refugee and asylum seekers in Indonesia. Indonesia is not a destination country but merely as a transit country. Indonesia itself is not a signatory to the UN convention on Refugee, therefore, we are not responsible to meet the need of the refugees stuck in Indonesia. However, President Joko Widodo signed the Presidential Decree No. 125/2016 on the Treatment of Refugees from Overseas. The decree has made a significant influence on the domestic politics as first, the term refugee is now used by all the government agency as “a foreigner who resides within the territory of the Republic of Indonesia due to a well-founded fear of persecution”. Before that, the authority called anyone who entered Indonesia’s border without a permit as “illegal immigrants”. Second, the decree sets a number of minimum standards for refugee shelters such as health care, provision of clean water, drink, clothing, food. It also states on the decree that  refugees can be moved from one shelter to another for family unification. Third, the decree sets a standardized practice of “non-refoulement” which means that Indonesia is not allowed to send these people back to the country where they fled from. Repatriation will only be exercised if the refugee concerned agrees.

Indonesia has not yet ratified the convention on refugee so UNHCR has the mandate to provide assistance to the persons of concern. UNHCR itself has limited budget, hence it cannot financially support all the refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia. Refugees in Indonesia face some problems ranging from financial problem to health problem. One of the main problems they face is the protracted waiting times. One can even wait until 5 even 6 years to be resettled.  This particular problem has impacted the well-being of these refugees as it takes toll on their health and financial status. Some of the refugees rent a house or apartment and some live in a detention center. They rely upon their families back home or the ones who have been resettled in the third country.  To rent a house in Indonesia is definitely not cheap. I was fortunate enough to have spent 4 months living in Cisarua, West Java with the refugee community there. I have asked them how much they pay for the rent of the house per month. It ranges from 1.5-3 million rupiah. If you do the math, and suppose they are going to stay here for 4 years and the cost for the rent per year is 24 million rupiah, so it is 96 million rupiah in total. It is definitely not a small money at all. Not to mention their daily needs, etc.

All the thing happening does really impact upon their well-being and some of them have even suffered from health decline due to this particular issue.

What do they usually do every day?

I cannot speak for the other refugees in other part of Indonesia as I have only lived and observed the way of living of refugee community in Cisarua, West Java. Most of the refugees do not have many things inside their house. Only carpets and very few electronics, kitchenware. They do not have much to do as they confessed to me about their troubling situation living in Indonesia. They are bored because they spend most of their days sitting or sleeping at home (p.s: they are not allowed to work here). One of the families that I have interviewed told me that it is definitely not easy to wake up every day just to sit and play with phones and there is very few things to do, and the situation they’re going through affects a lot on their health as they tend to get stressed thinking about their problem and all and it definitely takes toll on them.

How does it affect the children?

Children in particular are vulnerable, let alone refugee children who have been exposed to such dreadful experience and events in their early life. Some of them have to endure a great pain of losing family members to conflict or terrorism. These experiences are feared to worsen their current situation. Not to mention that they do not have access to education, or to have very limited access to education. A few of the refugee children have entered local school but many of them are reluctant to do so as they have to be fluent in Bahasa and any other administrative issue which they concern about. All the situation that these refugee children have to face is feared to have negative effects on their psychosocial development. Erik Erikson classified pyschosocial development into 8 stages in which divided per age and each stage has its own developmental task in which one has to accomplished. A developmental task is a task that arises at or about a certain period in life, unsuccessful achievement of which leads to inability to perform tasks associated with the next period or stage in life ( 

These refugee children are exposed to traumatic experiences and now face difficult situation as they temporarily live in Indonesia and these conditions could affect the effort to achieving their developmental task. Suppose 16 years old children who, according to Erikson, are on the stage identity vs identity confusion. If they cannot find and get the resources needed to help them in achieving their current developmental task which is to find their identity, what their dream is, how to achieve their dream, and so on, they will face identity confusion in where they do not know where they’re going next, and what are their dreams, and how to achieve them, and they will switch goals once in a while because they are not so sure yet.

What can you say from the Children you’ve interviewed?

I can say that they are all strong, resilient children. Despite their past and current situation, they remain positive, which is so amazing, given the fact that they have lost their family member, they received death threats and everything. But surprisingly, they still remain to have dreams. They know exactly what they wanna do in the future and what should they do to achieve their dreams. In fact they are working towards it now. One of the children that I interviewed told me that she wants to become a police woman. She’s inspired by the movie she saw back in Afghanistan. She said that she wanted to find the terrorists so that she can save people in Afghanistan. It is such a noble dream, isn’t it? One of them told me that after all that she has gone and is currently going through, she wants to help refugees after she is resettled in the third country. She said she knows how it feels like being a refugee so she wants to help. Aren’t they amazing?

From my research about refugee children, I have found several findings:

1) Media plays a great part 

Most of them found the idea of what they wanna do and what they wanna become in the future from the Media. We can say that Media is the first to help them initiate the idea of their future. One of the children is inspired to become a leader after reading a biography about Mahatma Gandhi.

2) Teachers ROCK!

Yeah teachers rock!! They  inspire these children with their hard work. They are volunteers in this learning center which means they are not being paid for what they do. And that inspires these children. Even when they’re not being paid, they work tirelessly and give the best they for the children. These teachers also constantly give them motivational speech and always remind them not to lose hope and always stay positive. So, now wonder these children are so positive!

3) Community and Family Play Great Role All Together

People are resilient because they are supported by resources that enable them to function well. These children are not only being supported by their family but also by the community, in this case, is this learning center. Learning center and family have to work hand in hand in providing supports needed for these children. Parents can’t just expect teachers to work and help their kids if they don’t help their kids at home. Suppose at school they are being taught to be discipline and positive but when they are at home their parents yell at them and just discourage them, so they will start to think less of themselves and start questioning. This is why community and family need to work side by side in terms of giving these children support needed for their development.

I have written about the refugee learning center in Cisarua and you can read it here.

Cheers x




One thought on “Living in Uncertainty: Refugees in Indonesia

  1. Pingback: Vagueness as the magic of creation! – Nicolas Heartmann

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