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Governing Refugees in Indonesia: A Reflection

(Coordinator of Pandjer School)

This brief paper focuses on the question of how Indonesia as not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol is burdened by the migratory exodus, which in turn, imposing the country to be responsible for both asylum seekers and refugees. As with not ratifying international specific regimes, Indonesia has no authority to impart legal status and to carry out repatriation to immigrants arrived in the country, chiefly those fleeing in illegal means. However, this paper also aims at examining the type of actors and their roles respectively in governing refugees in Indonesia, including the pattern of refugees' governance and the impact on domestic sovereignty.

It is argued that several global and regional crises lead to national instability that risks humanity, involving multiple spill-over effects to other national states tacitly. Most of the unintended effects impulse movements of people from their country of origin to the third states in order to look for solutions, not least to save their life from any kind of conflicts and miseries. While migrant persons bring various motives and goals to move to the country of destination, Sebastian (2016, 1) considers that migration is a transnational issue containing growing quarrels of global governance since the migration operates at the international, regional, and sub-regional, as well as involving differentiated actors.

Ilustrasi Publikasi
by Pixabay.

Underlying Problems
As exposed in media on an almost regular basis, Indonesia is imparted by fluctuated number of refugees since the late 1990s, which increased significantly in late 2000 until 2002 and upraised in 2009 (UNHCR 2019). As of 2018, Indonesia temporary hosts 13.900 refugees and asylum-seekers located in different camps around the country (Hasan 2019). This situation becomes worse for two reasons. Firstly, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has concluded to limit its funding for only 9.000 refugees in Indonesia since 2018 (Suastha 2018), while the rests circumstantially are subjected to Indonesian government responsibility, that is unethical matter. Secondly, Australia as the country of destination limits the quota for refugees’ resettlement due to 'domestic sovereign borders operation' to deter persons fleeing by sea, including those seeking asylum (Damarjati and Prasetya 2019). As a result, plenty refugees will be staying in Indonesia as the transit country for a longer period given that UNHCR cannot issue the win-win solution to resettle the refugees to the third countries (Wijaya 2019), and given that IOM cannot consistently support the logistics after Australia cuts their money (Lamb 2019).

In Search of Mutual Cooperation
To date, refugees' issue in Indonesia is addressed by both state and non-state actors, comprising inter-departmental coordination within Indonesian government, regional cooperation between Indonesia and Australia, collaborative actions of UNHCR and IOM, extra-parliamentary efforts led by local NGO, and emergency relief from local government and community charity.
  1. Abundance of responsibilities remains to Indonesian government, which eventually issuing Presidential Regulation on the Handling of Refugees, as the basis of devising internal partnership among multi-stakeholders and external joint relationship in term of detecting, sheltering, and safeguarding the immigrants.
  2. Movable coordination in technical issues take places in several governmental organizations to ensure the integrating practicalities in treating the migrants on behalf of humanitarian concerns, such as a) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, b) the Directorate-General of Immigration under the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, c) the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs, and d) the Indonesian National Police.
  3. More specifically, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNHCR, and IOM have been actively encouraging the Bali Process since 2001 to strengthen the regional cooperation between Australia and Indonesia to deal with influx immigrants to the global south, which as such, both countries established the Regional Support Office in Bangkok in 2012.
  4. Limited scope and funding of protracted roles of both UNHCR and IOM in a humanitarian mandate generate often-crisscrossed responsibilities and dilemmatic situation. While both international organizations are obliged to support the migrants in Indonesia, UNHCR is more likely designed to determine the legal status, thus they can be assisted to acquire resettlement in Australia, including to help the process of voluntary repatriation of those who failed to get refugee status (Suryanti 2016). Yet, on the other hand, IOM is more likely to provide day-to-day facilities to the refugees, such as food, water, medication, education, and counselling, including sponsoring money for those deciding to return to their origin voluntarily (Domloboy 2017). 
  5. In addressing (illegal) migrants, some local NGOs contribute to help to host them in community-based shelters, supported by the policy initiative of local governments to allow them staying at the government sites and the generosity of local people to regularly give them foods and second-hand clothes (Sari 2019; Mabrubroh 2019).

Impact on Domestic Sovereignty and Future Refugees Governance
In Southeast Asia context, Indonesia becomes the best practice of how transit state plays the key role of humanitarian and protection tenets in collaboration with other global, regional, and local actors. Indeed, there is a growing potential problem in correspond with the domestic sovereignty and national interests given that Indonesia have wholeheartedly tolerated the breakthrough of external issues onto their territory. Despite that UNHCR and IOM have been supporting Indonesia in managing the international migration within the country, both international organizations are more prone to risk Indonesia in term of national security and even implicitly forcing Indonesia to be responsible for such matters that are mandatory legal commitment. At this point, refugees’ governance is directed to Indonesia in receiving many more immigrants as simultaneously faced by Thailand and Malaysia, thus evoking regional governance to proliferate effectively and efficiently (see: e.g. Betts 2009, Klepp 2010). This is proved by the establishment of regional institutional regimes (see: e.g. Huysmans 2000) which so-called ‘Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons, and Related Transnational Crime’ and ‘Jakarta Declaration’. However, it is worth noting to question the UNHCR and IOM to enact their mandate in encouraging the ‘destination country’ to comply with the ratified conventions and protocols on refugees, not just dominantly depend on the funding and policy from donor states at international level. It is crucial to fairly distinguish whether a state is a destination or a transit, which in consequence, international organizations or any states do not contravene the domestic entity. Accordingly, this paper suggests that the refugees’ governance should shift from global to regional levels for some reasons: the national sovereignty can be maintained in multilateralism logics to offer realistic solutions, the global refugee problems can be filtered and prioritized before entering national territory, and subsidiarity principle can be applied by regional actors to determine collective mutual actions without at the expense of national interests.


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