The many faces of asylum seekers in Indonesia. Photo: Alex EllinghausenTHE towns in Indonesia where most asylum seekers hide out as they wait for passage to Australia have rebelled against their unwelcome guests and are trying to evict them.
The move by the cities of Cisarua and Bogor, which neighbour each other about 70 kilometres south of Jakarta, is a sign of the growing unrest among Indonesians at the thousands of refugees living in their midst.
In another recent incident, several dozen residents of a south Jakarta housing complex, Kalibata City, signed a petition complaining about the nocturnal behaviour of the large number of young single Iranians living there.
The head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Denis Nihill, confirmed that the local governments in the Bogor region wanted to clear out asylum seekers – most of them Afghans and Iranians – because “large concentrations have aroused community concerns”.
“We’ve been asked by the Indonesian government to move the IOM accommodated refugees … That process is continuing, and all people have been found alternative accommodation – we’re not throwing them out on the streets.”
However, the IOM only houses about 300 people in the area, mostly families waiting the three years or more in the “queue” for official United Nations resettlement to other countries including Australia. Even for those people it was proving difficult to find enough alternative housing, Mr Nihill said.
United Nations figures suggest that perhaps another 5000 people, many of them young single men, live in private accommodation in Cisarua and Bogor, many waiting to board boats to Australia. The area is cheap and close to both the UN office in Jakarta and the West Java beaches where many embark on boats to Christmas Island.
One prospective refugee, Mirza Hussain, said a local government representative had told his Cisarua landlord about a month ago to evict the Afghan Hazara tenants from his 14-room boarding house. “But the owner said, ‘These are good boys, they should live here, they are good persons’,” Hussain said.
Up to six asylum seekers live in each room, sharing expenses and reducing their food and accommodation costs to about $US100 a month each.
If the governments decided to enforce their orders with police “sweeps”, it is unclear where the asylum seekers would go.
Though instances of crime in the Bogor area are low, the concentration of young men has begun worrying local authorities. Yanyan Hendayana, the chief of security and order at Cisarua’s government, said Middle-Eastern people were being evicted because they had “different cultures and habits” from Indonesians.
“For example, these people walk on the streets in big groups, even when cars are passing, and they sit outside their houses and chat out loudly at nights, disturbing the locals.”
A confusing factor is another cohort in the area of richer Middle-Eastern men who are sex tourists, not refugees. They come to Indonesia to visit brothels or enter short-term “contract marriages” with local women under a loophole in Islamic law. They use this thinly veiled form of prostitution for a number of months before “divorcing” the girls and returning home.
It is understood that the pressure to reduce the concentration of Middle-Eastern men in the area started among local politicians. But it found a willing ear among the politically connected in Jakarta, many of whom own weekenders in the picturesque mountainside towns.
Indonesia has until now been relatively untroubled by the 10,000 or more asylum seekers in its midst. But the social problem with asylum seekers is growing. Its immigration detention centres are well over capacity, and are growing more crowded as police step up their attempts to arrest illegal migrants.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.