“SAVE us”. “Refugees are human”. “Process! Process!”. “How long must we stay here?”.
These were only some of the signs held by protestors outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta this week.
Dozens of people from war-torn countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia who have been in Indonesia for years joined the protest to urge UNHCR to accelerate their resettlement in third countries.
There are some 14,000 men, women and children registered with the UN body currently living in limbo in Indonesia, with no official legal work rights. Australia, traditionally a major resettlement country for refugees processed in Southeast Asia, now refuses to resettle anyone who arrived in Indonesia post-July 2014.
Furthermore, U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent executive order – which temporarily banned entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations, the admission of refugees for 120 days and caps total refugee admission for fiscal year 2017 at 50,000, which is less than half the 110,000 proposed by the Obama Administration – extends the resettlement process even longer.
Following a demonstration held last Saturday outside the U.S. Embassy condemning the White House’s executive order, the frustration of years of living in limbo in Indonesia spilled onto the streets on Monday, as refugees gathered to demand answers for their slow resettlement process from UNHCR.
Protest by refugees in Jakarta in front of UNHCR. They are asking to accelerate their resettlement. pic.twitter.com/921wr6cvjL
— Natashya Gutierrez (@natashya_g) February 7, 2017
“We have been waiting with the refugee card for three years and nothing, nobody even wants to talk to us, no one even values us as human beings,” said a 30-year-old refugee from Afghanistan.
Praising the presidential decree signed recently by President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, a 25-year-old refugee said, “It is a good initiative towards better lives of refugees in Indonesia. For the first time it gives us a proper definition but we desperately need resettlement. We are stuck here in the middle of uncertainty, while our families are left behind in hell to die without any protection.”
After two days of protest, the refugees ended their second day of demonstration without reaching UNHCR officials for comment.
“Today is the second day of our demonstration. We are here with only one request from UNHCR officials to give us logical justifications for the slow resettlement process, in front of the media. We will gather tomorrow again with a bigger crowd,” said a 23-year-old refugee.
— Han Nguyen (@HanNguyenNews) February 7, 2017
Another refugee, Mohammad Akbar, said he has been going to the UNHCR office every day for the last two months but during each visit, he is either turned away or made to fill out a form.
According to Sydney Morning Herald, Akbar had to flee Afghanistan several years ago, leaving behind his mother and two sisters, after his father, a former general in the army, was killed by the Taliban.
He claimed the Taliban kidnapped his father and then dropped his dead body in front of their family home with a warning that he would be their next target.
Now in Indonesia, Akbar is one of the thousands of other refugees with similar background stories, still waiting to start a new life in a country they can finally call their home.
“Now you tell me… who should we talk to? Where should we go? We don’t have nobody.”
** Mohammad Baqir Bayani is the co-founder and co-director of www.refugeesofindonesia.com, and currently resides in Indonesia as a person seeking asylum.