Refugee Council of Australia
People protesting with placard saying why are we the victims of Australian policies?!

After the boats have stopped: Refugees stranded in Indonesia and Australia’s containment policies

Lack of durable solutions

UNHCR considers that there are three durable solutions for refugees: voluntary repatriation, resettlement and local integration. However, in Indonesia, these options are not a possibility for most refugees, leaving people trapped in limbo.

Firstly, many countries which refugees have fled from are still experiencing ongoing conflict and human rights abuses. For refugees, who have fled war and persecution, the option of returning home safely in not possible. On average, over 80% of people assessed by UNHCR in Indonesia have been found to be refugees fearing persecution upon return.

Secondly, resettlement is only possible for a small number of refugees in Indonesia. In 2017, only 763 people were resettled to a safe third country, namely Australia (433), US (228), New Zealand (66) and Canada (36). However, policies of Australia and the US are significantly reducing resettlement options in Indonesia. Since 2014, Australia has maintained a policy of excluding any refugee from resettlement if they registered with UNHCR after 1 July 2014, as well as reducing the number of refugees it resettles from Indonesia.

In addition, the US has drastically reduced resettlement, with president Trump cutting the US’s refugee resettlement program by nearly two-thirds in his first year as President, from 96,874 in 2016 to 30,000 in 2018. As such, resettlement is increasingly out of reach for refugees in Indonesia. Recognising the lack of resettlement options, UNHCR has told refugees that most people will not be resettled, and that they should try to integrate into Indonesia as far as possible.

Finally, Indonesia does not consider local integration as a long-term option. While it allows refugees to remain temporarily, refugees are not provided with the right to work or access to healthcare, social support or further education. While there have been some options for children to access local Indonesian schools, this is still limited. Refugees also can’t open bank accounts, can’t legally marry and face a range of daily barriers in everyday life.

This desperation, coupled with the reduction of support from Australia, has led to many refugees living on the streets of Indonesia, while others have had to live on the small support from community members and family overseas. However, as this protracted limbo continues, it is unclear how long many people can remain on their own savings and the goodwill of the community.

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