After spending weeks living on the streets in front of the offices of the United Nations High Council on Refugees (UNHCR) in Jakarta, a group consisting of around 300 refugees were finally removed from the street and given assistance in the form of temporary housing in West Jakarta. But now those refugees face yet another challenge — neighbors who don’t want them in their neighborhood.
Last Thursday, the Jakarta administration brought buses to relocate the refugee group — consisting mostly of people from Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan — to a building formerly belonging to the West Jakarta military command (Kodim) in Kalideres, which has been set up as a temporary shelter.
But a group of residents in Kalideres spoke out to make very clear that they did not agree with the refugees being housed in the area, with several banners going up around the area saying local residents rejected the relocation.
Among the reported complaints, many local residents said they were upset because the government had not consulted them on the relocation. The former Kodim building is also located next to a school, so some complained that the refugees could represent a threat to their children and their studies.
One resident told the media that while they were not against giving humanitarian assistance to the refugees, it should not be done at the expense of Indonesians.
“Humanitarian assistance is fine, we all agree to that. But don’t victimize Indonesians that pay taxes every month,” one resident, identified as Deo, told Tempo yesterday.
In response to the protests by residents, the head of Jakarta’s branch of the National and Political Unity Agency (Kesbangpol), Taufan Bakri, stressed that the government’s actions were needed to maintain good ties with the international community.
“We don’t want to make our citizens uncomfortable, but they’re prioritizing their rights without consideration of bilateral relations that we have to keep up,” Taufan said yesterday as quoted by Kompas.
Taufan said the Jakarta administration had agreed to provide temporary shelter for the asylum seekers at the request of the UNHCR and asked residents to try and sympathize with the plight of the asylum seekers.
“Their lack of comfort will be rewarded by recognition from the international community of how concerned the citizens of Jakarta are about the suffering of the refugees,” Taufan said, adding that the government would still do their best to address the issues brought up by residents.
It remains to be seen if the maintaining-good-international-relations argument will carry much weight with the protesters. Some refugees have also been quoted by the media saying they agree they shouldn’t be kept at the former Kodim building, although they said it was because the shelter did not have proper facilities and lacked sufficient access to food, water and electricity.
Jakarta administration officials said the government would pay for the refugees’ new accommodations for one week but after that, the UNHCR will need to take over.
The plight of refugees stuck in Indonesia is immense. Even those who attain official UN refugee status face an estimated wait that has gone from “many years” to “likely never” before they can be resettled to a refugee-friendly country. Stuck in legal limbo and with no right to work in Indonesia, unsurprisingly, many have ended up homeless. The group that had camped out on the streets in front of the UNHCR office had done so in protest of their poor living conditions and the slow resettlement process, refusing to budge until they had been offered some form of assistance.
According to UN data, Indonesia is home to about 14,000 refugees. Not so long ago, UNHCR promised resettlement times of 2-3 years, but in the intervening time the number of refugees has increased while many of those countries willing to take them in are being pressured to close their doors, leading the UN agency to tell refugees that they may have to wait in Indonesia indefinitely to have any hope of resettlement.