Once on a boat to Australia, asylum seekers tend to generate headlines, whether they make it to their destination or drown on the way. But often overlooked are the inner workings of a state of limbo that has become the norm for these people once they reach Indonesia; it’s a key transit point, mainly for asylum seekers who come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Burma.
Rukhsana Jaffary, her husband and her three children arrived from Quetta, Pakistan, in February 2002, and say they have never intended to get on a boat. The total cost of some $25,000 is just too much.
True numbers of transients are fuzzy, but certainly those numbers are increasing. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are more than 7,200 registered asylum seekers in Indonesia. Nearly 2,000 more people living in Indonesia have been found to be refugees by the UNHCR, and about 750 have had their cases for resettlement forwarded to a third country. (By comparison, in June last year these numbers were 4,766 asylum seekers and 1,219 refugees.)
Indonesia does not take refugees on a permanent basis. Those living here while waiting for their claims to be heard or for resettlement are barred from working or sending their kids to Indonesian schools. If you are registered with the UNHCR you are, technically, allowed to live in the community, but being caught without your papers — or while trying to hop on a boat to Australia — is likely to get you a ticket to detention.