James T. Riady, the founder and chairman of Pelita Harapan Education Foundation, right, visits a refugee camp in Kalideres. (B1 Photo/Bayu Marhaenjati)

Refugees in Jakarta Get Free Education, Health Service, but Uncertainty Remains


JULY 28, 2019

Jakarta. Thousands of refugees and asylum seekers in Jakarta will be able to breathe easier this week after the government, private companies and social foundations joined hands to provide basic necessities that have been denied them for many months.

The refugees can now enjoy clean water, sanitary supplies, free medical checkup and education for their children. Yet, their fate is still far from certain.

James T. Riady, the founder and chairman of Pelita Harapan Education Foundation, visited the refugees twice in the past week in their current shelter, a disused military building in Kalideres, West Jakarta.

On his latest visit on Saturday, the businessman promised humanitarian assistance for the sick and free education for the refugees' children.  

"They really need help. In this condition, it's particularly pressing to detect the presence of infectious diseases," James said. 

"We need to quickly contain them, or risk everyone getting sick," he said.

According to James, doctors and nurses from Siloam International Hospitals have volunteered to treat the refugees. Some suffering from critical illnesses have been transferred to Siloam facilities.

"It's not just me. There are many others who also give their time and energy to help the refugees as best they can. Siloam will stay here to keep the refugees healthy," James said.

Hasan Ali, a refugee from Somalia, said he was grateful for the medical assistance provided by Siloam Hospital. "Many of us are falling ill. We are thankful to the organizations that have helped us," Hasan said.

The refugees and asylum seekers spent many nights sleeping rough on the streets in Central Jakarta before the city government mustered the effort to open the temporary shelter in Kalideres. Most of them had fled war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Somalia and hope to be relocated to Australia. 

However, Australia's continued reluctance to accept the refugees has overwhelmed the United Nations High Commission for Refugee Affairs (UNHCR), the organization responsible for their relocation, and has left transit countries like Indonesia struggling to take care of them. 

Irmansyah, the head of Jakarta's social affairs agency, said the provincial government only has enough money – taken from the city's disaster mitigation budget – to provide food, electricity and clean water for the refugees until the end of this month.

"We can't just drive these refugees away. We've been asking the UNHCR, the Immigration Department and the central government to help us," Irmansyah said.

Irwansyah estimated there are now around 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Jakarta, including 1,400 men, women and children in the Kalideres shelter.

The refugees in Jakarta originate from 12 countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Syria, Palestine and China.

Free Education

James said some of the refugees have had to wait in Indonesia for seven years and more often than not had to forgo education for their children. 

"Imagine if a family has waited for three, five or seven years. Every day they would be feeling sorry for their children since they can't go to school," James said.

"The wives would start questioning their husbands, why were they brought here?" James said. 

The Pelita Harapan Education Foundation has now taken the initiative to open a learning center for children in a building near the refugee shelter in Kalideres.  

James said he hoped others would also pitch in to teach the refugees and asylum seekers new skills to help them cope with their situation.

"Many of them are having troubles sleeping at night because of the heat, the mosquitoes and the noise. There is a lot of people here. They're always anxious that something will go wrong," he said.

"In the end, they need independence. They are still waiting for a country to accept them. It may take another one, two, three years. In the meantime, they should be able to learn new skills. They can be volunteers in this shelter. They have the ability to do many things," James said. 

Hasan, the Somalian refugee, said he regretted the rule that bars refugees from working here while they wait to be relocated. This has left them unable to support themselves. 

"We hope to live a normal life but we can't work here in Indonesia," Hasan said.

"Migrants are not allowed to work. We would take on any job if we are allowed to. There are young people who can do all sorts of jobs. [But] we can only wait to be transferred to another country," he said.

Better Coordination

James said the Indonesian government has been doing their best to solve the refugee issue. 

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has continued to urge countries party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, such as Australia, to accelerate their processing of refugees and asylum seekers.

"The Jakarta administration and Governor Anies Baswedan have provided a place to live for these refugees, food every day, water, electricity. They've done the best they can. The IOM [International Organization for Migration] has also helped. The coordination has been good," James said.  

The tycoon calls for others to join him in helping the refugees. 

"Everyone who wants to take part, I appeal to them to come here," James said. Seeing conditions at the shelter first-hand will change the stigmatizing view of refugees and asylum seekers, who are often suspected as criminals.  

"There are no criminals here. I see them going in and out freely. They are all people who are honest and just want to provide the best for their families," he said.