Refugees, desperate to reach Australia, speak about appalling conditions in Indonesia

Protesting for refugee rights on December 11 in Melbourne. Photo: RAC Vic/Facebook

Nilofar told a forum on December 5 — by video link from Indonesia — that refugees stranded there are not allowed to work or study. A Hazara refugee from a minority group that is persecuted by Afghanistan and Pakistan, she said refugees have little chance of resettlement and this had led some to commit suicide.

The meeting, jointly organised by the Refugee Action Collective (Victoria) and the Refugee Action Coalition (NSW), discussed the dire situation of about 14,000 refugees stranded in Indonesia after being prevented from coming to Australia.

Australia has not been accepting refugees from Indonesia since 2014.

Margaret Sinclair, a RAC (Vic) member who visited Indonesia in October, described conditions for refugees as “shocking”. Two thirds live in run-down accommodation, provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Often a whole family has to live in a single room. There is no play equipment for children, and no maternal and child health care.

The Australian government pays $120 a month for adults and $50 a month for children, but there is no budget for their medical needs.

Sinclair said the refugees are in a state of “deep despair”. Some children do not speak. She said Australia must expand its humanitarian migration program to include the refugees in Indonesia.

Ian Rintoul from RAC (NSW), who also visited Indonesia, said the Indonesian government classifies the refugees as illegal immigrants and therefore they are not given work rights. Children cannot be educated beyond primary level.

Only 11,000 refugees receive any income support. The IOM, funded by Australia, gives no income support to refugees who arrived after 2018.

Rintoul said there are weekly protests by refugees outside the Jakarta offices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Sometimes they are savagely repressed, causing refugees to be hospitalised.

Rintoul noted that Labor’s policy calls for a “review” of the situation of refugees in Indonesia, but no action has been taken.

Mohammed, a refugee from Sudan, said he has been recognised as a refugee by the UNHCR, but was told he has no chance of resettlement.

Sarwar, an Afghan refugee, said there have been protests by refugees in seven Indonesian cities.