Challenges of being a refugee in Indonesia


By Irudhaya Jothi

Bogor, May 29, 2019: The train from Jakarta Kota takes around 90 minutes to reach the city named Bogor in the heart of West Java, which is some 1,000 feet above sea level. The mountainous range is cool and out of reach for pollution of Jakarta city.

This beautiful mountain range is home to around 14,000 refugees from 49 countries. Most refugees are from Afghanistan and some other countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia.

“Jesuit Refugees Service (JRS) has been working in Indonesia for the past 30 years, starting the work among the people from East Timor,” said the Asia Pacific Jesuit Conference secretary for Social Action Adri Suyadi.

The Jesuit continued, “We currently provide crucial psychosocial support, emergency support, and education to refugees. JRS Indonesia is also involved in advocacy and protection efforts.”

JRS was founded in November 1980 by the superior general of the Society of Jesus Father Pedro Arrupe to respond to the plight of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their war-ravaged homeland.

In recent times, Pope Francis has called on the world to stand with the refugees by saying, “In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands”.

An estimated 68 million people are refugees today all over the world.

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has been intervening in the lives of refugees for the past 25years and more.

For example, in 2017 alone JRS served almost 640,000 people and determined to have even more greater impact in the lives of people in the years to come.

It works under four greater focus areas around the world; namely, Education, Livelihood, Reconciliation and Advocacy.

Around 4 million refugee children are out of school. To reach out to them, the JRS has 217 education centers around the world. The livelihood option, which gives some identity to earn their living, has come into problems in some countries just as in Indonesia as they have no right to work.

Melani Wahyu Wulandarai one of the coordinators of JRS Indonesia said, “Since Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, many displaced people find themselves extremely vulnerable and marginalized once they arrive in the county.”

But she asserted that “the presidential decree on December 2016 on Refugee in Indonesia allows the refugees to live in Indonesia temporarily until they get shelter in any other countries.”

This is the opening space for the Indonesian Refugee workers to enter in the lives of those entering the soil through a lot of adversaries and challenging travels.

On his visit to the refugee family the reporter asked Mariam (name Changed), if she knows what the JRS is, she said, “I actually do not know who or what JRS is but I know these people, I and my children alive today with some dignity and hope for safe journey ahead, it is due to this people, they are my only hope”.

Mariam is one of the Kurdish single mothers with two children reached Indonesia from Afghanistan. Her 16-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son go to the local coaching school run by the JRS and the family gets a regular monitory help for the rent and ration from the JRS office situated in nearby town Bogor.

Mariam had to leave the country of her adoption in Dubai after her violent husband divorced her and since she was a Shia Muslim and was ill treated by the Sunni Muslims, she had to move back to Afghanistan where she had no one to fall back on and hence left with her children to Kuala Lumpur via Delhi.

From Kuala Lumpur the expedition of travelling by boat with the smugglers started through the sea at night and they safely landed near mountainous Bogo area where the JRS received them.

Generally this is a type of journey with risk they take to the unknown world escaping the aggression and persecution of the country of their origin.

Jesuit Priest Peter Devantara, the country JRS director said , “there are not many agencies engage with refugees and so our mission is very relevant today”. He asserted, “we are ready to stand for refugees at any cost, even today some of the our colleagues take risks to welcome the refugees..!”

Jesuit priest Adri Suyadi briefed the work of the Assitancy in the two fold approaches, ‘Be Friend’ which focuses on healthcare, shelter and food and the other ‘Socio- Psychological counseling takes care of the acceptance and identity of the refugees.

The Jesuit who was the former country director of JRS asserted, “we shall continue our humble efforts at all cost”.

When asked if there are any discrimination by the local the 10 year old girl child of a Iraqi refugee family said, ‘Yes’ she expressed with hope, “we shall move out to Australia where I wish to study to be Doctor”.

Thanks to the JRS works those who have been driven from their countries due to War, natural disasters, ethnic violence and Political repressions find a welcoming and understanding neighbor in the form of JRS workers all over the world.

(The writer is a member of the Calcutta Jesuit province.)

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