Each year, around the globe, millions of people stand up to mark world refugee day on 20 June. The main purpose of this day is to educate the public on constantly amplifying refugee crises, to mobilize political will and resources to address this global issue, and to acknowledge, celebrate and reinforce small and big achievements of humanity.
This year millions of people from communities, schools, businesses and faith groups walked thousands of miles to #stepwithrefugees and to share their solidarity and support to all refugees around the globe.
Every day 37,000 new people were forced to leave their homes in 2018 and it leaves approximately 70.8 million forcibly displaced people around the world- more than at any time in modern history. These are people who have fled extreme danger, persecution, conflict, violence, or human right violations in search of safety for them and their families.
Among them 25.9 million are refugees, including me. We have faced war and persecution in Afghanistan; conflicts from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic and South Sudan; violent rebellions and climate disaster across the Sahel; persecution and genocide in Myanmar and Eritrea; economic collapse in Venezuela; drugs and violence in Colombia and Mexico, and state collapse in Libya.
As the number of refugees escalates, the rise of anti-immigrant attitude has mounted along with it. Across the western countries, conservative political rhetoric has found a new home- they are supporting to abandon their international legal obligations and longstanding commitments to protect refugees and asylum seekers. In the United States, across Europe, and around the world, refugees are progressively not welcome. Many governments are criminalizing migration, victimizing refugees, and declaring that their countries are closed to asylum seekers. People seeking safety are being treated like criminals.
Meanwhile, asylum seekers and refugees are pushed back and confined in low and middle-income countries, where we often struggle to access the adequate care and assistance we need. Increasingly, the world’s wealthiest nations are providing financial support and other incentives to countries willing to host refugees. This is converting international aid, which should be allocated on the basis of needs, into a tool for migration control.
Indonesia is one of the countries that host refugees for the duration until refugees are resettled in next country or we are sent back to our native countries. The duration varies from four years to over ten years. Indonesia is not a signatory member of the 1951 refugee convention which gives the flexibility to the Indonesian government to not grant citizenship to refugees, to not allow them to work, to get formal education, to freely travel inside and outside the country, to drive, to legally marry and to own a property. On the flip side, there is not any financial and health assistance from the government either.
Currently, there is an estimated 14,000 refugees stranded on different islands of Indonesia but due to lack of awareness majority of Indonesians are not aware of the existence of refugees on their land. This lack of information has pulled the refugee community farther from the Indonesian community.
In Indonesia, on 20 June 2019, we, HELP for Refugees, co-organized a Refugee Awareness Day to commemorate world refugee day. Many people, mainly Indonesians, came to the event to know more about refugees in Indonesia, and about our culture and cultural foods. I, along with three other panelists from UNHCR Indonesia, Institute Francis Indonesia and Roshan Learning Center, gave general information about refugees. Additionally, I specifically talked about challenges that refugees face and the amazing partnerships that I set between HELP and well-known Indonesian companies and organizations. I shared my experiences on how refugees and Indonesian communities can support each other by cooperating and remove the gap by understanding each other better.
As part of the world refugee day, I was also invited to join the panel of discussion in an event organized by SUAKA. I with three other panelists from National Development Planning Agency Indonesia (BAPPENAS), National Law Enforcement Body Indonesia (BPHN), UNHCR Indonesia and SUAKA, discussed the possible ways of how Indonesian government can give legal assistance to all the refugees. I explained that today we are refugees because in our home countries we were not given the right to protection, the right to freedom of movement, speech and opinion, the right to identity, the right to proper education and the right to express our true sexual desires. By seeking asylum we actually seek access to all basic human rights. We may have been granted genuine refugee status but that means nothing except another label unless we are freed from the chains of restrictions and we are allowed to live a meaningful life.
Last week, a group of Singaporean students from Youth Corps Singapore invited me for a dinner to share with them about refugee challenges in Indonesia and how I started HELP for Refugees from scratch despite being limited myself. I shared about how resilience is the only tool of survival for thousands of refugees in Indonesia and around the world, and how it can be helpful to them to succeed in their lives.
These were some of the highlights of World Refugee Week in Indonesia. Many great organizations and institutions organized several other amazing events to raise awareness about refugees. Today I am delighted to see many more Indonesians are aware of refugees and our challenges than any time in previous years.
This blog was originally published on Mohammad Baqir Bayani’s website.