Hundreds of asylum seekers wait for a decision on their resettlement applications at the Kalideres temporary shelter in West Jakarta, on Monday. (Antara Photo/Rivan Awal Lingga)

Self-Empowerment Crucial for Refugees in Indonesia: UNHCR


JANUARY 28, 2020

Jakarta. Empowering refugees in Indonesia is a critical priority while finding more comprehensive solutions for their plight, the United Nations Refugee Agency said.

UNHCR Indonesia representative Ann Maymann said productive refugees are essential to sustain their prolonged stay in a transit country. This is why the agency has been working with the Indonesian government as well as non-governmental organizations to run programs to help refugees learn skills to be more independent. 

"We're working in very close coordination with our partners and the authorities [to provide]basic standards for the refugees so they can sustain themselves and not be dependent on financial assistance, since that's only available to a very small number of them," Maymann told the media in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Maymann said one of their programs is a collaboration with the International Labor Organization (ILO) where refugees learn to pitch new business ideas and create products.


"We've had one batch of participants for this program, and there will be another batch coming soon," Maymann said.

At the end of the program, the refugees were partnered with Indonesian participants to submit a business proposal to acquire a seed capital. Maymann said it has always been part of the UNHCR's commitment to help host countries while empowering the refugees.

"We want the programs to help Indonesia as well. Our message is that it's possible to help refugees while at the same time helping the host community," Maymann said.

The empowerment scheme is part of a host of alternative solutions devised by the UNHCR while the agency tries to find more comprehensive solutions for the refugees' plight. 

The assistant protection officer of UNHCR Indonesia, Isa Soemawidjaja, said the agency usually employs at least three "traditional" solutions to solve the complex problem of refugee resettlement.

The first is voluntary repatriation. This becomes an option when the refugees consider the situation in their home countries has improved. However, Maymann said this was an unlikely scenario for most of the refugees currently stranded in Indonesia since they come from countries where peace is not expected to come any time soon.

The second is local integration, where the refugees get naturalized after a certain period in the transit country. However, this is also unlikely since there is no legal ground for the Indonesian government to naturalize the refugees stranded here.

The last solution is resettlement to third countries, which seems to be the most popular option among the refugees in Indonesia, many of whom say they would like to start a new life in countries that have signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention – usually developed countries like the United States and Canada.

And yet, fewer and fewer refugees get the resettlement they wanted in the past few years. In 2018, only 81,300 resettlement spots were given by 29 countries, down 40 percent from 134,000 spots four years earlier. 

This is why the UNHCR thinks empowering the refugees is the best alternative solution for Indonesia's "refugee problem." 

According to the UNHCR, there were at least 25.9 million refugees all around the world in 2019. In Indonesia, there were at least 13,657 individual refugees spread around the archipelago. More than half of them (7,147) live in temporary shelters in the Greater Jakarta area. There are also 1,979 refugees in Medan and 1,769 in Makassar.

Most of the refugees in Indonesia come from Afghanistan (56 percent), followed by Somalia, Iraq, Myanmar, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Yemen and Palestine.

Even though Indonesia has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, a 2016 presidential decree ruled that the government must provide security and protection for refugees transiting in the country.