Impressions and Reflections on World Refugee Day

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Refugees are preparing meals for Refugee Day Celebration

“My son is now three years old, but I have never seen his face”, said an Afghan refugee living in Sewon, Bantul, Yogyakarta. “He was still in the womb when I left. Since then I have not met my wife and child”, his sad and lonely eyes gazing at the horizon, far beyond the lively atmosphere of the International Refugee Day celebration. The man that minutes ago danced excited and demonstrated his Kung Fu martial arts skills falls silent holding a glass of hot tea in his hand. The refugee next to him just embraces him patting his shoulder, without saying a word.

“Displacement occurs in many places because of the violation of human rights and against humanity”

The happy Indonesian songs sung by a singer leads to smiles and excitement in the listening refugees. They have fun dancing and singing together in joy. “Happiness like this is rare, so I just want to enjoy it, I do not want to remember the many problems,” said another refugee, who from the beginning of the show was up on his feet to dance. The occasional traditional song sung in Farsi language gets applause from the refugees and the present Indonesian community leaders.

However, all this excitement cannot hide the mood of the refugees who were forced to separate from the people they most love, the meaning of their life. After all, this event was able to make forget the pain for a short time and strengthen resilience for things to come.

“Practicing martial arts is good for physical and mental strength,” said one refugee. “Not only our bodies become stronger but also mentally, we become stronger in facing the toughest challenges”, he adds.

World refugee day highlights that the root causes of displacement must be taken more seriously. “Displacement occurs in many places because of the violation of human rights and against humanity”, said Dafri Agussalim, MA, lecturer at the Department of International Relations on University Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta. “Unfortunately, the displacement tend to not be viewed from a humanitarian perspective, but rather be addressed as a political or security issue”, he added. As a result, humanitarian refugees are likely become vulnerable. They are not granted access to fulfill their basic needs or rights. Governments and the people of countries where the refugees seek asylum, should ensure their protection and fulfillment of their rights. “In reality the instruments of International Law alone are not strong enough to ensure the protection of refugees. The reasons for this are different regulations based on the assumption of the sovereignty of the National Law over International Law.” He adds.

Countries that experience major “human rights violations” which often cause displacement should be approached by others in the region that share their cultural and social context to effectively encourage positive changes. ASEAN member countries have a chance to engage member states regards policies and practices that have implications for neighboring countries. The issue of human rights abuses and the failure of democracy in a country that results in displacement across boarders have implications for its neighbors and should encourage and allow those neighboring states a role in at least suggesting how to solve these causes.

The current tendency to criminalize people seeking refuge labeling them illegal’s or smugglers have severe implications on how they are treated. A refugee fleeing persecution often cannot choose about the flight and should be treated accordingly as real people with real needs. Forced to leave their homes, land, possessions, often without personal documents, and hardest of all loved ones in order to reach a land that can provide peace and safety.

Political analysis and laws and regulations should be acknowledging the human rights and humanitarian aspects of the situation instead treating people in need for protection and humanitarian assistance as violators of laws and regulations. Hope can be found in the words of one head of a refugee hosting community in Padukuhan Pandes, at Sewon, Bantul, Yogyakarta, who told the refugees: “We strongly hope that the refugees can blend in with all the people living here as brothers and sisters and as a family, even though we are different”.

Simple people, who provide hospitality and friendship to those who have lost protection of their own state, are desperately needed by the world today. Willingness to learn and share sad and happy moments with others can enrich us. “The refugees made me understand that other people cook in a different way, more healthy, does not cause stomach ulcers and gout”, joked a mother from the Pandes community attending the world refugee day event. By receiving and sharing with each other we are able not only to practice solidarity and learn about others from a different part in the world but also learn about ourselves.

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