Golden Opportunity for ASEAN to Begin Recognizing Refugee Rights

Press Release

Golden Opportunity for ASEAN to Begin Recognizing Refugee Rights

[Jakarta, 24 January 2019] Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) appreciates the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN’s) effort in facilitating repatriation for Rohingya refugees facing persecution in Myanmar.  Earlier this week, ASEAN expressed the intent to address the issue of forced migration of Rohingya refugees within the ASEAN region. This comes as a response to the overwhelming need to facilitate a coordinated response to what has been described as the fastest-growing refugee crisis. The Rohingya, a stateless minority group residing in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, have suffered discrimination at the hands of the Myanmar government, and violent persecution by the military and nationalist vigilantes.

ASEAN’s repatriation efforts have been spearheaded by the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre), which is coordinating the equitable distribution of aid and relief in affected areas of Myanmar. Along with overall support from the ASEAN community, these efforts have paved the way for the development of a clear pathway towards the realization of peace and human rights objectives.

In order to prevent further escalation of the crisis in Rakhine State, ASEAN must contribute to guarantee the safe repatriation of Rohingya refugees, working alongside ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation to resolve the key issues causing the conflict, and to promote reconciliation with upholding the principles of fair trial and human rights-based approaches.

In order to uphold accountability, it is crucial that Myanmar opens press freedom. Journalists should be free to seek and share information. Accordingly, Myanmar must release the journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were imprisoned in 2017 for investigating human rights abuses in Rakhine State.

A comprehensive refugee rights policy should be introduced and developed by ASEAN as, since its establishment, ASEAN has not addressed refugee rights.

This crisis can be seen as a golden opportunity for ASEAN to begin to recognize refugee rights as well as begin to end practices such as mandatory detention. Alternative methods include: Supporting the health and well-being of migrants, strengthening the participation in immigration case resolution processes, improving voluntary and independent departure rates and avoiding wrongful detention, overcrowding and long-term detention.

For more information, please contact Mr. Daniel Awigra, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Working Group  at or +62817 6921757

For download the press statement please click this link.

From Immigration to Integration

Beneath the glitzy, modern towers of central Jakarta, with the sun reflecting its heat upon the ground, a handful of tents are perched on the side of the road, right next to the UNHCR building in Kebon Sirih. These tents however are not temporary; these have been the permanent homes for many refugees stranded in Jakarta.

Mahmood is a 40-year-old Afghani refugee who have resided in Indonesia for over 5 years. Out of fear of being persecuted, he ran away from his home, leaving his wife and 8 kids, searching for a safe place to call home. $8000 was how much he paid the people smugglers to get him out of Afghanistan.

His journey is difficult and rough to say the least, and far from over. In 2013 he left Afghanistan in the hopes of coming to Australia. He first went to India for 12 days, then Malaysia for 4 days, and then he took a boat to Medan, and then to Jakarta. Here, he registered his name to UNHCR, before making his way to Australia.

“In the past, in January 2014, I came to Australia by boat. Then 12 days with the immigration, border protection of Australia in the big boat. After that they send me back to Jakarta, in the orange boat. My boat was demolished,” he said.

Australia has a policy of returning boats carrying refugees before it reaches its shore. In the process, boats carrying refugees are intercepted by Australia’s border force before entering Australia’s water, then refugees are ultimately transferred into a small, cramped, and dingy orange boats to be sent back to Java. Mahmood fell victim to Australia’s petty politics of the gambling of refugees’ lives in returns for popularity with its electorates. He was officially deemed a refugee by UNHCR 20 months after he first registered.

“I’m hopeless now,” he said when asked of what hopes he has.

Mahmood is just one case in many of refugees who are stuck in transit countries, in danger of returning back to their homes yet unable to go their intended destinations. In Southeast Asia alone, countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been the host of many refugees from Somalia, to Rohingya to Afghanistan among others.

Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) and Adeline met Mahmood and other Refugees last year to celebrate Christmas.

The problem however is that refugees in these countries ultimately have no rights. As neither Thailand, Malaysia nor Indonesia have signed or ratified the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugee Rights, they therefore have no rights in being there, nor have any rights to citizenship. They are not only living in poor conditions, but unable to receive education or proper health care, unable to work and risk being deported due to their legal status as being “illegal aliens.” As the world is becoming increasingly isolationist, the case of refugees being stuck in transit countries will only rise.

Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia claims that despite not a party to the Refugee Convention, they would provide minimal protection to refugees, including adherence to non-refoulement principle on humanitarian grounds. Yet this is promise is fragile to political changes, and does not insure refugees proper living conditions.

While the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) has a body to protect human rights, their refugee protection mandate remains weak. It is therefore necessary for states within ASEAN to ratify the Refugee Convention to assure some rights to refugees and for the region to cooperate in creating a plan of action for the protection of refugees. But more importantly, it is necessary to tackle the original reasons that cause people to flee their home. In an era where states are increasingly becoming more isolationist in a more globalised world, it is no longer possible to simply turn a blind eye against conflict that can cause an influx of people to flee their homes. Origin, transit and destination countries are responsible for protecting the rights of refugees.

In the wake of the International day of Human Rights, Mahmood’s case reminds us of the plight of those who are persecuted and risked their lives in the hopes of finding a better place to live. In the spirit of ‘gotong royong,’ we must remember that help is also needed for those who are not a citizen and who is simply looking for safety.


This article is written by Adeline Tinessia. Adeline has been intern at HRWG for the past couple of months. She is studying a bachelors of International Security Studies, taking a focus on Southeast Asia and specifically on Indonesia.






PERPRES – Refugee Protection Must Answer Key Issues Regarding Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Indonesia

 The Government of Indonesia has passed Presidential Decree (Perpres) 31 December 2016: ”Republic of Indonesia Presidential Decree 125/2016 regarding Refugees from Abroad”.
SUAKA; Indonesian Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection, welcomes this Presidential Decree (Perpres), which has been planned since 2010.
This regulation fills a legal vacuum which has long affected asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia. It confirms Article 28G of the Indonesian Constitution, and Article 25 – 27 of Law No. 37 of 1999 on Foreign Relations.
 Febi Yonesta, Chair of SUAKA, confirmed that this regulation should become the key regulation and reference for all Indonesian government officials in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees within Indonesian jurisdiction.
“Before this regulation, government officials, especially junior officials and officials in outlying areas, were hesitant to address issues affecting asylum seekers and refugees, including the arrival of asylum seekers by boat into Indonesian waters,” said Febi. “Due to the absence of regulation their approach was often protectionist, which increases the vulnerability of people seeking asylum from war, persecution and mistreatment,” he said.
 “Based on the Perpres, there is now an established coordination and a clear function by Government in relation to the treatment of asylum seekers, no matter the mode of their arrival,” he continued.

According to SUAKA, the implementation of this Perpres will increase understanding among government officials, and in turn, increase the ability of officers in the field to implement the Perpres. Previously, asylum seekers and refugees were often viewed as illegal immigrants or illegals, principles negative term which is not legally accurate.

 “We appreciate that this new Perpres confirms the definition of refugees contained in the 1951 Refugee Convention, and does not continue to label asylum seekers as illegal immigrants,” said Muhammad Hafiz, SUAKA Advocacy Coordinator, and Executive Director Human Rights Working Group Indonesia (HRWG).
“All relevant government agencies should immediately adopt the Perpres definition, so as to treat asylum seekers and refugees as regulated under Indonesian law.” he added.
 Hafiz further asserted that Indonesia should additionally ensure human rights principles contained in International Conventions are incorporated into any future regulation principles contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and other International Conventions ratified by the Indonesian Government.
 “Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or 1967 Refugee Protocol. Consequently, Perpres should be carried out in accordance with the convention and protocol, to ensure the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia are guaranteed,” affirmed Hafiz.
 SUAKA encourages the Indonesian Government to disseminate the Perpres widely and provide training to local government agencies across Indonesia, in order to ensure effectiveness and compliance. Especially in areas where asylum seekers and refugees are held in detention or live in the community, such as Aceh, Makassar, Medan, Tanjung Pinang, Kupang and West Java, SUAKA believes it is important regional government officials understand the reasons why this Perpres was entered, in order to ensure this very vulnerable group will be treated according to basic human rights.
 SUAKA is appreciative of the work of Indonesian government departments to implement the Perpres, as it is already complete enough to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
SUAKA urges the government to be especially aware and concerned in regards to vulnerable people in emergency situations at sea, and to asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia who are are experiencing serious and ongoing medical issues, are pregnant, live with a disability, minors under the age of 18 years, especially minors who are separated from their family, and also the elderly. SUAKA also urges the Indonesian government to recognise and implement: the right to family unity; a clear definition of a refugee under Indonesian law; a fair distribution of supportive roles between institutions under the principle of shared responsibility; and the use of the Indonesian state finances to promote refugee protection.
 Jakarta, January 18, 2017  For further comment contact: – Febionesta (Chair SUAKA): 087 870 636 308 – Muhammad Hafiz (Advocacy Coordinator SUAKA): 081 282 958 035