End indefinite limbo for refugees in Indonesia! Lift Australia's ban on resettlement!

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On 18 November 2014, the then immigration minister Scott Morrison announced that refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia on or after 1 July 2014 were no longer eligible for resettlement to Australia. The announcement came 12 months after the Abbott government commenced Operation Sovereign Borders, using the navy to turn back asylum seeker boats from Indonesia.

Even before 2014, the number of UN-recognised refugees that Australia was resettling out of Indonesia was very very low. After averaging around 50 a year between 2001 and 2009, it rose to around 450 a year between 2010-11 and 2013-14 prior to the imposition of the ban.

As a result of this ban, some 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been in limbo in Indonesia for five, and even up to 10 years. They survive on a few dollars a day, have no right to work or to access Indonesia’s health or education systems.

The resettlement process for these thousands of refugees has been brutally long, and because other UN resettling countries regard Indonesia as Australia’s zone of resettlement responsibility, their prospects for resettlement are effectively zero. Most are forced to survive on an International Organisation for Migration (IOM) allowance of about $100 per month--just over $3 a day. Last year, hundreds of refugees were so desperate that they started sleeping under tarpaulin tents on a street next to an already full detention centre in West Jakarta, in the hope that they might be offered food and shelter.

There have been protests and hunger strikes in many of Indonesia’s detention centres, not least Balikpapan in East Kalimantan and Makassar in South Sulawesi. In February this year, 24 year old Hazara Sajjad Jacob died after dousing himself with petrol and setting himself on fire at the Manado Immigration Detention Centre in North Sulawesi. Sajjad had been in the Manado detention centre for almost two decades, after coming to Indonesia in 2000 as a child with his family.  

The Indonesian government is now in the process of closing the detention centres, so asylum seekers are left to try to survive without support.

The IOM is now introducing a new rule to force these impoverished refugees pay 10% of the cost of visiting a doctor. For those refugees with serious (and more expensive) illnesses, seeing a doctor will no longer be a possibility.

It’s time to put an end to this protracted limbo and to immediately lift the ban on resettlement of refugees out of Indonesia. The Coalition’s policy turns back asylum boats but leaves refugees in Indonesia - among whom there are teachers and other professionals – without hope.

The ALP’s national conference in December 2018 promised to “give appropriate consideration to UNHCR refugee registrations to assist Indonesia and the UNHCR to work through the backlog”. These refugees deserve more than consideration. For far too long, Australia has denied them a future and needs to act urgently. Refugee supporters are determined to fight this injustice.

We demand that the Coalition and Labor unequivocally commit to lift Australia’s ban on resettling Indonesian UNHCR refugees.


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