The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) remains concerned by the lack of legal frameworks in South East Asian countries for the protection of asylum seekers. Although Indonesia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has not signed the Refugees Convention.
As the fourth most populous country in the world, with a population of 240 million, Indonesia is focused on managing its diverse ethnic and cultural groups. Asylum seekers do not figure prominently in the national discourse.
Yet Indonesia is a porous archipelago and important transit country (p 57) for those applying for protection. Asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Burma move through Indonesia by air, land and sea seeking protection.
It is not possible to be granted asylum or refugee status under Indonesia law, nor has the government established a system for providing protection to refugees. Instead, it gives UNHCR responsibility for registering, evaluating and settling asylum seekers. UNHCR continues to advocate for Indonesia to accede to the Refugees Convention and its 1967 Protocol.
Estimates of the number of refugees and asylum seekers in the country vary. In mid-2013 there were 8262 asylum seekers and 2078 refugees registered with UNHCR.
Asylum seekers are detained or live in the community without financial assistance or the right to work, and receive only a limited education. There are 13 immigration detention centres throughout Indonesia.
People found to be refugees awaiting resettlement receive a small stipend and live in International Organisation for Migration (IOM) or UNHCR facilities.
Antje Missbach and Frieda Sinanu (2011), “The Scum of the Earth”? Foreign People Smugglers and Their Local Counterparts in Indonesia, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 30, 4, 57-87
Antje Missbach, Indonesia-Australia relations sour over asylum seeker boats, Asylum Insight, December 22, 2013
Human Rights Watch, Barely Surviving: Detention, Abuse, and Neglect of Migrant Children in Indonesia, June 24, 2013
Savitri Taylor & Brynna Rafferty-Brown, 'Difficult Journeys: Accessing Refugee Protection in Indonesia' (2010) 36(3) Monash University Law Review 138-161
UNHCR, Indonesia operations profile (2014)