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Rohingya refugee: ‘We are ready to die at sea’

Delays in processing could be causing some asylum seekers to take actions into their own hands. (Photo: AAP)

Rhiannon Elston
July 30, 2013
Bogor in
West Java is a safe haven for a Rohingya refugee and his young family. But with
no opportunity for work it’s a temporary solution with no re-settlement option
yet in sight. 
The mountainous region of
Bogor, West Java, is a safe haven for 33-year-old Kim* and his young family. But
it’s also a temporary home, a place where the 
Rohingya man cannot work or study, where his children
can’t go to school and where they’ll never be citizens.

Since fleeing political and religious persecution in Myanmar in 2011, Kim has
been counting the days until his family can start their life anew.

Eight months
after arriving in Indonesia they received UNHCR certification, the proof of
their plight as “genuine” refugees. That was more than a year ago. The family
now faces an indefinite wait to be resettled in a third country. 

“Any country” says Kim. “We not only select Australia, any resettlement

spokesman Ben Farrell says for the vast majority of asylum seekers based in
Indonesia, local integration is not an option.
is some support available through [International Organization for Migration]
IOM, but in the end we consider that refugees in Indonesia are in need of a
durable solution,” he says. 
So far, no
word has come from any country. Kim says he is starting to wonder whether to
follow the path of others he has met in Indonesia, and attempt the journey to
Australia by boat. He doesn’t think it would be hard to arrange.
“There is some
Indonesian people,” he says. “If we need that way, we pay them, they are
carrying us from Indonesia to Australia.” 

For the moment, he is prepared to wait for official resettlement. 

“If the UNHCR will resettle us, we don’t want to try by boat. If the Australian
government accepts us legally, we don’t want to try by boat,” he says, but
adds: “How long I have to wait? Here I am waiting for a bright future for my
family and my young children. 

“After two years we are waiting, but they didn’t respond to us.” 

Since arriving in Indonesia, Kim’s wife has had another child, now no longer a
baby. In photographs, the children squint at the camera with indifferent faces.
They are tiny, well-dressed, with sharp haircuts.

The family receives aid from the International Organization for Migration
(IOM), which includes food, a place to live and some basic amenities. They live
in relative safety. When asked why he would risk his children’s lives to leave,
Kim becomes audibly distressed. 

“We have no freedom, no future, no [citizenship], no life,” he

“If we stay in Indonesia, also we don’t have a future. So we are ready to die
at sea.”

Getting on a boat is not an alien concept to Kim. The family have already done
it twice before, once to leave Myanmar for Thailand, and then again from
Malaysia to Indonesia. They also know of others who are planning a sea journey
to Australia. 

“I know many people in here they are going by boat, or they will go,” he says. 

News of Australia’s recent change to asylum seeker policy was quick to reach
refugee communities awaiting resettlement in Bogor. Kim says the prospect of
being resettled in Papua New Guinea is not a deterrent to him or his family. 

“Yes, I heard about that,” he says. “But also if Australian government sends us
to any island, any country, we are ready to go, because we don’t have any other

Once an asylum seeker
becomes a UNHCR-certified refugee, the agency will look for what it calls a
“durable” or long-term
 for that person. That could mean being returned to
their home country or being integrated into their current nation of residence,
but if neither of those options are possible, they may be resettled in a third
spokesman Ben Farrell says in the case of resettlement, the refugee agency will
submit people to countries for potential residencies. 

“The way it works is we will look for a spot for a person within the
quotas of each country,” he says. “It’s completely the receiving state’s
decision whether or not to accept those people.”

For refugees
in Indonesia, the receiving state is almost always Australia.
Around 605
refugees have been accepted from Indonesia in the last 12 months, according to
records from the Department of Immigration, or an increase of around 400 on the
previous year. Less than a hundred have been resettled to other countries in
2012 and 2013 combined, the majority to New Zealand.
That still
leaves large numbers in Indonesia either waiting to be processed or awaiting
There were
1,819 refugees and 6,126 known asylum seekers living in Indonesia in January
this year, UNHCR data shows. Some 4,800 of those asylum seekers were still
awaiting their “first instance” interview for refugee certification at the time
the data was published.

The UN agency notes the “long wait” asylum seekers face to have their refugee
status determined, and for resettlement, “may result in more persons of concern
opting to take the perilous journey by boats to another destination in the
region and beyond, such as Australia.”

The same report also said it expected long waits for processing would continue.

To highlight
where this delay in processing comes from, the UNHCR once again points to the
The amount of
people seeking asylum in Indonesia has rapidly increased in recent years. In
2008, the agency registered 385 asylum seekers. In 2009 the figure was 3,220
and by last year it had jumped again to 7,218.
For Kim, the
processing delay means his life is on pause.
“We are
waiting and watching only,” he says. “Many times, we asked
UNHCR but they didn’t respond to us [with an outcome].
“So we
are very sad, very sad. Waiting and waiting only.”