In the lead up to World Refugee Day on 20 June, discussions with government took place, with activists urging the government to do more to uphold the rights of refugees due the lack of attention given to them as a vulnerable group during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Roswita Kristy from the Jesuit Refugee Service Indonesia stated that refugees taking shelter in Indonesia were not included in the government’s COVID-19 response program. The government provided barely any access to information regarding the outbreak for refugees, instead relying on NGOs to translate information into their native languages.
The Foreign Ministry director for human rights Achsanul Habib said Indonesia had “gone the extra mile” in handling refugees, such as providing shelters to Rohingya refugees, even though it had no international obligation to do so by not signing up to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
Activists reminded the government that Indonesia was still part of many international and regional human rights conventions to ensure the rights of refugees such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In a public discussion, Afghanistan born refugee Sikander Ali highlighted: “We do not have the right to get a formal education, to do legal work, or to travel to any place in Indonesia.”
Activists emphasised the crucial work of refugees in responding to COVID-19, with Kristy stating how “with community-based collaboration, the refugees can actually help and contribute to the fight against COVID-19.” For example, Somalian refugee Nimo Ali, who works with the organisation Sisterhood, spoke about how the organisation had distributed basic food supplies to refugees and their Indonesian neighbours, which has earned them respect from the Indonesian communities.
Other activists from SUAKA further highlighted that refugee protection “is not only for the benefit of refugees but also the government itself. Seeing the refugee as the problem is the problem.”
According to the UNHCR, there were at least 13,524 refugees registered in Indonesia as of May.
The Jakarta Post: