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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
    country.”



    UNHCR
    spokesman Ben Farrell says for the vast majority of asylum seekers based in
    Indonesia, local integration is not an option.
    “There
    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
    says.     



    “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
    way.”



    HOW DOES REFUGEE
    RESETTLEMENT WORK?
    Once an asylum seeker
    becomes a UNHCR-certified refugee, the agency will look for what it calls a
    “durable” or long-term
    solution
     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
    country.
    UNHCR
    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
    resettlement.
    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
    numbers.
    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.”