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Ordered to leave shelter by Aug 31, refugees in Jakarta face uncertain future

Ordered to leave shelter by Aug 31, refugees in Jakarta face uncertain future

There are more than 1,100 refugees in Kalideres, West Jakarta. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

JAKARTA: Watching his five-year-old nephew sleep in a small, stuffy room, Mr Zakir Hussain can only imagine how his life would be if he was not in Indonesia.

The refugee from Afghanistan has lived in an overcrowded temporary shelter in Kalideres, West Jakarta, for the last 1.5 months.

He and about 1,100 other refugees living in a shelter provided by the city government are in limbo after the authorities announced that they will have to leave the place by Saturday (Aug 31).

“As you know, in our country (Afghanistan) there is war. So we just want to find a safe place,” Mr Zakir said when interviewed by CNA.

Zakir Hussain (right) and his family are Afghans who are seeking temporary refuge in Indonesia. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

Indonesia has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, thus it doesn’t accept refugees.

However, there are currently around 14,000 refugees in the country registered with the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

They are transiting in Indonesia, waiting for developed countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States to accept them. The majority of them are from Afghanistan (55 per cent), Somalia (11 per cent) and Myanmar (six per cent). 

READ: Refugees protest in Indonesia over Australia border policy

After years of waiting, about 150 refugees became frustrated and decided last July to camp on the sidewalks in front of the UNHCR office in Jakarta as a sign of protest.

The Jakarta government then relocated them to an empty former military building in Kalideres which only has about five toilets.

News about the relocation spread and the number of refugees living in the two-storey building quickly grew to over 1,100, forcing some to live in tents outside the main building in the compound.

An elderly refugee couple eat in front of their tent. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

The government provided the refugees with food but has insisted that the refugees are the responsibility of the UNHCR. On Aug 21, the government stopped food supplies and demanded that the refugees vacate the premises by Aug 31.

“We hope that the UNHCR and IOM (International Organization for Migration) help the refugees so they know they have to leave the building soon," Mr Taufan Bakri, who heads the city government's unity and politics division, told CNA.


Refugees in Indonesia face many restrictions, including in employment and education, compounding their difficult situations.

When 24-year-old Mr Zakir arrived in Indonesia two years ago with his parents and two nephews, they lived in Bogor, a city on the outskirts of capital Jakarta.

They left Pakistan, where Mr Zakir and his family had previously lived for years, out of fear of prosecution because as Afghans migrants, they weren’t allowed to live there.

The refugees in Kalideres, West Jakarta, have to leave the temporary shelter by August 31, 2019. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

They bought plane tickets in the hope of finding a better life in Australia or New Zealand and arrived in Jakarta after several stops.

With their savings, they rented a small house in Bogor and registered themselves as refugees with the UNHCR.

Since Indonesia hasn’t ratified the 1951 convention, refugees in the archipelago are not allowed to work. As a result, people like Mr Zakir, who was an English teacher in Pakistan, are jobless.

READ: Indonesia pledges US$40 billion to modernise Jakarta ahead of new capital: Minister

“When we first arrived here, we had savings, so we just felt it was safe here, it was very good.

But as you know, we are not allowed to work, so day by day our savings became less … We just feel like incomplete human beings,” Mr Zakir said.

Eighteen-year-old Daniel, also from Afghanistan, said he feels hopeless.

Having lived in Indonesia for almost three years, the teenager and his family of 13, has no idea what the future holds for him.

“I just play cards every day,” he said in fluent Indonesian.

His ten-year-old nephew Ali, who showed CNA his UNHCR refugee card, said he only wished to live in a place where there is food and water.

Ten-year-old Ali from Afghanistan shows his UNHCR card with the approval of his mother. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

“We fight every day for food here…so it’s not good,” Ali, who was accompanied by his mother, said in Indonesian.

He also said he missed going to school as he and other refugee children are not allowed to go to school under Indonesian law.


Since the government discontinued the food supply, the refugees have largely been living on food provided by donors.

Ms Maria Magdalena, 32, visited the facility with her friends on Wednesday to give donations.

“Originally we just spontaneously decided to help because we sympathise with them.

But then it became a word of mouth and one or two friends visited this place, and afterward, they told their friends, posted on social media, so more people like us (donors) are coming,” Ms Magdalena said.

The refugees have been getting food twice a day from donors. When CNA visited on Wednesday, some donors handed the refugees new clothes and toys, resulting in a small scuffle. 

The babies and children at Kalideres temporary refugee shelter don't receive special children food. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

The UNHCR said that it is still coordinating with the government and its partners to find a solution.

Meanwhile, IOM said it is not allowed to take on new migrants under a new 2018 policy and is still taking care of about 8,000 refugees.

“We are trying, we are doing our best to help the case in Kalideres. We have already developed a concept note, a project proposal which was submitted to a couple of potential donors,” IOM’s Indonesia Acting Chief of Mission Dejan Micevski told CNA.

IOM is also offering capacity building and training, hoping to enhance the refugees’ skills.

Mr Bakri from the Jakarta government also hoped that the refugees gain new skills and come up with products that can be sold, since they are not allowed to officially work in Indonesia.

Most of the refugees living in Kalideres are from Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan. (Photo: Kiki Siregar)

He pointed out that there are over 5,000 refugees in Jakarta and the government is overwhelmed.

“We’re considering several ways for them to earn money without violating regulations. We can’t give them money," Mr Bakri said.

READ: PM Mahathir vows ahead of ASEAN meet to help Rohingya bound for Malaysia

As of Thursday, the government hasn’t found a long-term solution to the refugee problem. However, it has offered to facilitate the refugees' return to their home countries and is talking to their government representatives.

Meanwhile, for Afghan teenager Daniel, his entire future is shrouded in uncertainty.

Asked what he wants to be as an adult, he said in a teary voice: “I don’t know … life is hard.”

Source: CNA/ks(aw)


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