Open letter to Labor: Increase the allowance to refugees stranded in Indonesia

August 2, 2023
Refugee rights activists outside NSW Labor offices in July. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

The following open letter to the Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neil, An urgent appeal for Labor to increase the allowance and end the poverty of refugees in Indonesia, is being circulated by the Refugee Action Coalition.

• • •

There are around 14,000 refugees in Indonesia condemned to live in poverty — a third of them with no income at all — because of policies put in place by the Scott Morrison government.

Labor can reverse those deliberately cruel cuts.

Around two-thirds are housed in dilapidated and often overcrowded and unsanitary accommodation blocks in cities across Indonesia.

The Australian government funds the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to provide an allowance of just 1,250,000 Rupiah ($123) per adult, per month. Children get half that amount.

Many adults only get the child’s allowance because, if they arrived in Indonesia as children, they are only entitled to a child’s allowance even when they become adults.

This allowance, funded by the Australian government, has not increased since at least 2012.

Refugees are not allowed to work in Indonesia, so they are totally dependent on the allowance paid by IOM.

Because of cuts made by the Morrison Coalition government, refugees who have arrived in Indonesia since 2018 get no allowance at all. They are also excluded from IOM accommodation.

That means there are thousands of refugees and their children who get no support at all; some are living on the street.

Recently, refugees’ access to medical care (both doctor consultations and prescriptions) has also been cut back, meaning that any medical care beyond that has to come out of an income that has already been drastically eroded by cost of living increases.

In Makassar in 2012, a chicken cost 15,000 Rupiah; it now costs 70,000 Rupiah. In the past four years a kilo of meat has increased from 80,000 to 130,000 Rupiah; milk has gone from 11,000 to 20,000; two litres of cooking oil from 22,000 to 40,000; and disposable nappies from 60,000 to 100,000. A basic bus fare in Makassar has doubled from 5000 to 10,000.

One Afghan family of two parents and six children, living in a derelict military building in Jakarta is receiving just one adult allowance of 1,250,000 rupiah for the family of eight. Some families receive nothing.

These punitive policies were put in place by the Morrison government, as was the ban on Australia accepting any United Nations Human Rights Commission-designated refugees, who arrived in Indonesia after 2014.

For just $21 million a year Labor could reverse Morrison’s cuts and double the income of all the refugees in Indonesia.

That’s nothing compared to the $420 million contract for the infamous United States company, MTC, just to keep Nauru operational for two years. But for refugees in poverty it will make an enormous difference.

Please act urgently to increase the IOM allowance.

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