Jakarta. Indonesia's immigration authorities deported four Vietnamese asylum seekers on Wednesday (13/12) despite protests from a rights group that argued the Vietnamese are facing a real threat of persecution back in their home country.
The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, or APRRN, wrote an open letter to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Wednesday, asking him to offer his protection to the asylum seekers and stop immigration authorities from sending them back to Vietnam.
"We call on the president to halt immediately the deportation of the four asylum seekers and to cooperate fully with the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to allow asylum seekers to access refugee status determination procedures," Evan Jones, APRRN's program coordinator, said in a statement sent to the Jakarta Globe.
Jones cited a Human Rights Watch report from 2017 on the increasing persecution of political activists in Vietnam. However, he did not explain why the deported Vietnamese were seeking asylum in Indonesia.
Agung Sampurno, a spokesman for the Justice and Human Rights Ministry's immigration directorate general, confirmed to the Jakarta Globe that the four Vietnamese had been deported on Wednesday afternoon.
Their trip back home was arranged and paid for by the government of Indonesia.
According to Agung, a boat carrying 40 foreign men and women was rescued in waters off East Nusa Tenggara in late October by a marine police patrol unit.
The boat's passengers claimed they were headed to Australia.
Police handed over the men and women to immigration authorities.
The UNHCR had assisted 36 of the men and women to return home using their own money.
"We decided to deport the four individuals because, based on our investigation, they were illegal immigrants, not genuine asylum seekers," Agung said.
Indonesia has never signed the UNHCR's 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
President Jokowi issued a presidential regulation (Perpres No. 125) in December 2016 to regulate handling of asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia.
It is the only legal instrument the country has to process asylum seekers and refugees.
APRRN, a network of more than 300 civil society organizations and individuals from 28 countries, nevertheless pointed out that the country is party to the UN Convention Against Torture.
"Under the Convention Against Torture and customary international law, Indonesia has an obligation not to return individuals that might be subject to persecution or torture," Jones said.
The principle of non-refoulement in customary international law forbids sending back asylum seekers to a country in which they will face persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or participation in a social group.
But ministry spokesman Agus said interrogations conducted by the UNHCR representative office in Indonesia proved the four Vietnamese were not genuine asylum seekers.
He said immigration authorities will provide protection to genuine asylum seekers and refugees as mandated by the 2016 presidential regulation.
The UNHCR is currently unavailable to comment on this issue.
Even though Indonesia is not a party of to the UNHCR's Refugee Convention, the government has allowed the UN body to work in the country since 1979 — at the height of the Vietnam refugee crisis — to help displaced people who are seeking international community protection.
According to the UNHCR, more than 14,000 asylum seekers and refugees from 54 countries are now stranded in Indonesia.