Inside Indonesia’s detention centres

by Pamela Curr

This morning [16 Dec 2009] The Australian reports that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has completed its assessment of the 78 asylum-seekers on the Oceanic Viking and designated all of them as genuine refugees. [Ed Note: 78 Sri Lankans rescued from Oceanic Viking granted refugee status ]

This year the AFP and Indonesian police have stopped, arrested and detained 1998 people who were attempting to come to Australia by boat. Most of these men, women, children and unaccompanied children are now in prisons and detention centres across the Indonesian archipelago in conditions ranging from acceptable to appalling.

The UNHCR has assessed 640 of the cases in Indonesia and found them to be refugees requiring protection. They are going slow on the others because they are unable to get countries, including Australia, to resettle the refugees. This leaves more than 2000 people effectively warehoused in Indonesia.

They are fed and watered and housed like cattle, in the words of one 14-year-old Iraqi girl.

Australia pays IOM to do this. The government has so far revealed no policy on what is to happen to the people piling up in Indonesia. [Ed Note: IOMInternational Organization for Migration]

Last year Australia settled 35 people from Indonesia. At this rate there is a 40-year queue for refugees hoping to settle in Australia.

We the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre have found 70 children without parents or relatives locked up in Indonesia prisons. There are others with whom we have not established contact. They are mainly Hazara kids who have been smuggled out to save their lives.

One 17-year-old boy was sent after his father was “slaughtered” by the Taliban for refusing to hand over his 15-year-old daughter to a 50-year-old Taliban leader. His five brothers are missing, his mother and two sisters travelled by donkey and on foot across the mountains to Quetta after the attack.

The village elders advised them to run and now the family is separated with the young boy locked up in an Indonesian prison. He has a sister living in Australia who would sponsor him but her application, like hundreds of others from family members, sits in the bottom draw of the immigration department.

Another 14-year-old had his entire family killed by the Taliban because they were Christians. Quetta, the traditional bolthole for Hazaras, is no longer safe. Afghans who have returned after visiting their families tell us that they saw Hazaras gunned down in the street.

This is contributing to the outflow of Hazaras to Indonesia.

This footagefilmed on a mobile phone in the Makassar rudenim (detention centre) two weeks ago illustrates the difficulties faced by refugees. The man on the floor with no pants on has been returned to the detention centre and beaten. He escaped with four others after paying a bribe to the deputy director of the rudenim which allowed him to do so. They gave the escapees an hours grace and then went out after them:

The four men were caught, beaten and bashed. The reason that this man has no pants is because the Indonesian guards know that the only place left for the detainees to hide what little money they have is in their underwear. As a consequence the guards pull their trousers and underpants off searching for money.

These poor quality photos show swelling, cuts and bruises left by the beatings. In other centres we have reports that after people escape the remaining detainees are bashed as a warning for them not to make a similar attempt:

Conditions in these many prisons and detention centres vary enormously from sympathetic to brutal. Corruption is rife as poorly paid guards see the detainees as an income source until they are run out of what little money they had and are then trapped. IOM are required to visit the detainees and then notify UNHCR staff. Most recent escapes have occurred following failure of UNHCR staff to return as promised.

After registration by UNHCR, they promise to return to interview detainees. This may take months, as will the decision and letter assessing them as refugees in need of protection. In the past people would then be released to hostels, however we understand Indonesia has now been pressured to keep them locked up to stop possible boat expeditions.

In the community they have no right to work or school for the children or movement but they are fed and watered while they wait.

Some have now been living in this warehoused state for nine years and still counting.

NB: One Error- Jessie Taylor , Melbourne lawyer and advocate found the 70 kids in Indonesian prisons, detention centres and hostels.

One thought on “Inside Indonesia’s detention centres

  1. 'Jakarta Refugee Protest Condemns Indonesia Solution; Police Attempt to Arrest Australian Activist, Ian Rintoul' says:

    Media Release: Jakarta Refugee Protest Condemns Indonesia Solution; Police Attempt to Arrest Australian Activist distributed for:
    28-29 December 2009
    Refugee Action Coalition
    Ian Rintoul, +62 81 398 569964
    or +61 417275713

    Jakarta Refugee Protest Condemns Indonesia Solution; Police Attempt to Arrest Australian Activist

    Around 40 people have staged a lively protest outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta on Monday, 28 December.

    At the protest, a large banner in Bahasa and English said, “Reject the Indonesia Solution, Free the Refugees, No to Detention”, and the protest attracted a lot of attention from passers-by and the local media.

    The rally was jointly called by Indonesian and Australian refugee defender groups – the Confederation Congress of Indonesia Union Alliance, the Working Peoples Association and the Refugee Action Coalition. The joint statement for the rally (pasted below) also highlighted the need for urgent assistance for Tamil asylum seekers at Merak.

    A number of Australian humanitarian visa application forms submitted by the Merak asylum seekers were handed to staff at the Embassy. The visa application forms have been a source of controversy over the past week. Copies of the form were confiscated from people at returning to the boat from the hospital where they obtained the forms. A few days earlier, authorities at the Jakarta immigration building refused to allow Tamil detainees to complete the forms.

    The forms also seem to have been the reason that a Tamil asylum seeker, “Sammy”, was arrested at the Merak hospital on Saturday night. The whereabouts of “Sammy” is yet to be determined.

    Attempt to arrest Ian Rintoul

    The protest outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta had a dramatic ending when Indonesian police attempted to arrest the Australian activist, Ian Rintoul, as the rally was leaving the Australian embassy. Protesters surrounded Rintoul physically preventing the police making the arrest. After a tense standoff and legal argument between police and protesters, lasting 45 minutes, the police withdrew with a photocopy of Rintoul’s passport.

    Meanwhile little seems to have been learned from the death of Merak asylum seeker, Jacob, on 23 December. Despite numerous and increasingly desperate requests from early morning, by the family of a seriously ill 7 year old girl, no ambulance was provided until after 3.00pm.

    “Kevin Rudd created the Indonesia solution with his call to the Indonesian president to stop the Mark boat. It was an arbitrary decision that subverts the Refugee Convention by denying protection to asylum seekers. Without Kevin Rudd’s call, Jacob would be alive today.

    “Genuine refugees have been left in limbo. It is a disgrace that hundreds of asylum seekers are languishing in Indonesian detention centres built with Australian government money. It makes a mockery of the Rudd government claim that the government has a humane policy toward asylum seekers.

    A protest will be held in Sydney, 30 Dec, 12.30pm, at the Immigration Office, Lee Street, City.

    For more information contact, Ian Rintoul +62 81398569964 or +61 417 275 713

    Joint Statement: No to the Indonesian Solution

    Joint Statement by Confederation Congress of Indonesia Union Alliance, Working Peoples Association, Refugee Action Coalition for protest at Australian embassy, 28 December, 11am

    No to the Indonesian Solution

    Free the Refugees; No detention of asylum seekers in Indonesia or Australia Urgent humanitarian aid for the Merak Tamil asylum seekers

    On 11 October, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd personally called the Indonesia President to request that the Indonesian navy intercept a boat carrying Tamil asylum seekers heading for Australia. The Indonesian navy intercepted that boat and took it to Merak, where it has been for the last two and half months.

    Under the so-called Indonesia solution, Australia pays hundreds of millions of dollars to intercept and detain asylum seekers seeking protection of Australian under the Refugee Convention. The Indonesia solution means that the Australian and Indonesian governments are co-operating to deny the human rights of asylum seekers.

    We believe that international borders should not be closed to asylum seekers. Refugees and asylum seekers should be welcome at international borders.

    Tamil, Afghan, Royingha and other people fleeing persecution and war should be free to seek protection in safe countries. In Australia, the government proclaims that detention of asylum seekers is a last resort, but in Indonesia, detention centres funded by the Australian government are inflicting misery on hundreds of asylum seekers across the Indonesian archipelago.

    Instead of funding detention centres, the Australian government could be providing humanitarian aid for housing and welfare.

    The tragic death of Tamil asylum seeker, George Jacob at Merak on December 23 has put the fate of asylum seekers caught by the Indonesian solution into sharp focus. One death is one too many. The Australian government funds the International Organisation of Migration to provide support for asylum seekers in Indonesia but Jacob died because the Indonesian authority and IOM waited too long to take Jacob to hospital.

    Without immediate humanitarian assistance, for medical care and proper shelter, there could easily be another tragedy among the 250 asylum seekers at Merak.

    The experience of the Tamil refugees on the Australian ship Oceanic Viking shows that it is possible to quickly process and re-settle asylum seekers in Indonesia. But the Australian government is not willing to take responsibility for the people at Merak. Australia only re-settled 35 refugees from Indonesia in 2008-2009. A regional humanitarian policy for refugees must have a guarantee of resettlement in a safe country.

    The Indonesian solution must be replaced with a humanitarian policy that guarantees the human rights and the freedom of refugees. There must be no limitation on the right of refugee boats to land or on the right to seek asylum and be guaranteed permanent protection and re-settlement.

    A successful resolution for the 250 Merak asylum seekers must include:

    (i) legal representation during Indonesian immigration verification;
    (ii) immediate access to the UNHCR to begin refugee processing ;
    (iii) a guarantee against arbitrary detention;
    (iv) support for basic needs while being processed and
    (v) guarantee of non-refoulement – that asylum seekers will not be deported to face danger in any country.

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