World Refugee Day 2009

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

“… and I thought that I can do something about it and so can you. Maybe with our help and support they won’t have to run anymore.” The closing words the film “Running-Belari” left the room silent for a minute. People kept still looking at the screen with the logo of SUARAM (Suara Masyarakat Malaysia/ Voice of the Malaysian People, an NGO advocating for the rights of Refugees).

It was the 20st of June, World Refugee Day, and JRS had invited to come to Sanata Dharma University Yogyakarta. About 50 people including lecturers, representatives of civil society and students from Indonesia, Thailand and Burma/Myanmar had gathered here to watch the film describing the experiences and challenges faced by refugees in their home country and in the country of asylum (Malaysia). “Personally I appreciate everyone that helps them (refugees) and accepts them in their country … these people fleeing and their voices touched everyone of us” states Lorence a student from Myanmar/Burma at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta still touched by the stories shared through the film.

The audience was surprised to learn that there are more then 16 million refugees in the world most of them facing the same challenges as the people portrait in “Running”: forced to leave their home countries searching for a safe place to live in peace and dignity but encountering suspicion, being labelled as illegal’s deprived of their rights put in detention or send back to the countries they are fleeing from, where they often facing persecution and mistreatment because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or because of their political opinion.

“Indonesia is currently granting asylum to 441 refugees and 1487 more applied for refugee status here recently most of them from conflict-ridden countries like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Iraq and Somalia” states Nurul, National Protection Officer of UNHCR during the following presentation. Asylum seekers and refugees are housed in 18 different locations in Indonesia including hostels, camps and detention centres in Jakarta, Bogor, Aceh, Tanjung Pinang and Medan.

Following the questions and comments about the situation and conditions of refugees and asylum seekers one participant asked “What concrete steps can we take to help these people?”. “There is a need for a common effort by governments, UN, NGO’s and normal people to address the needs of these people fleeing their homes. By opening up and telling the stories of these people like just done in the film, we can encourage understanding, solidarity and support for asylum seekers to challenge their portrait in the media as ‘illegals’ trying to enter a country. That is a first step.” said Lars Information & Advocacy officer at JRS Indonesia.

As Christy, a refugee from the Chin minority from Burma, stated in the film: “I realised that being a refugee, we have lost our human and woman dignity”. “What do I want … for refugee people? I would like to ask to let us stay … in peace”. Enabling the refugees and asylum seekers to live a live in peace and dignity can only be realised through a common effort and via the practise of solidarity like we have seen in Acehnese communities supporting Rohingya refugees after them being washed ashore in Sabang and East Aceh. As Fr Baskara the moderator of the event put it “our planet only knows one species that is willing to kill other members of the same species forcing them to flee” but this species also has the ability to practice ‘solidarity’ and ‘humanity’. Or will we have to call it differently now?

On world refugee day, Fr. Adri Suyadi, Country Director of JRS Indonesia published an article in Kompas newspaper, entitled “Pengungsi yang dilupakan – The Forgotten Refugees” appealing to use the wide definition of de-facto refugees which also to includes Internally Displaced People in efforts to support refugees and people forced to flee their homes. Many of those people still have not found a ‘durable’ (sustainable) solution enabling them to live their lives in dignity and safety also here in Indonesia.

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