3 strategies for Indonesia to help save Afghans from a humanitarian crisis
The escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan after the departure of the American army forced a large number of people fearing the takeover by the Taliban terrorist group to flee the country. A humanitarian crisis is imminent.
The United Nations Refugee Agency estimated 270,000 Afghans have been newly internally displaced since January 2021 – mainly due to insecurity and violence. Since August 13, this number has reached nearly 400,000, bringing the total uprooted population to over 3.5 million.
A growing influx of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers has put Indonesia in the spotlight. Southeast Asia’s largest economy is known as a transit country for refugees towards the ultimate destination, Australia.
This article recommends three strategies for enabling Indonesia to play an important role in preventing a humanitarian disaster.
Beyond “peace talks”
Indonesia played a diplomatic role in conflict resolution and peace processes, in particular as a mediator between the Afghan government and the Taliban since the tenure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004-2014).
However, with negotiations stalled and the collapse of the US-backed government, now is the time for Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, to face the most urgent crisis.
Many of Afghanistan’s close neighbors have refused to provide shelter. Instead, they have fortified border walls. Iran has set up camps along the border, although aid and assistance remains insufficient.
The United States, seen as most responsible for the current chaos, has asked some countries to provide shelters for Afghans in danger.
Other countries have announced resettlement plans. Canada and the UK were among the first to offer places – asylum quotas of up to 20,000 – to the Afghan people.
Australia, as the closest destination country, is known for its “stop the boats” campaign and mandatory detention in offshore processing facilities, which have put the lives of many refugees at risk.
Australia’s strict asylum policies in recent years have forced many refugees to extended stay in Indonesia due to a long resettlement process, which can take up to 20 years or more.
With the rapidly evolving situation in Afghanistan, Indonesia is likely to see significant numbers of Afghans passing through the country.
To avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, there are three steps Indonesia can take.
First of all, Indonesia must adequately ensure the human rights of refugees waiting on its territory. Coordination with international agencies and civil society groups on the ground is important to ensure this happens.
Currently there are about 13,000 refugees in Indonesia. More than half are from Afghanistan.
Despite this, the Indonesian public does not view Afghans as refugees compared to the Rohingya – a heavily persecuted Muslim people in Rakhine State, Myanmar.
Local Indonesian media often present the Rohingya as boat people in distress escape from the Buddhist tyrants.
In contrast, Afghan refugees are generally considered to be “illegal”Immigrants pushing their way through paying smugglers and falsifying travel documents.
The Hazaras, who represent most of the arrivals from Afghanistan, also face discrimination and violence during their “transit” in Indonesia because of their religious affiliation. The Hazara ethnic group originates from the mountainous region of Hazarajat in central Afghanistan.
The lack of legal protection further exacerbates the difficult life of Afghans during transit.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued presidential regulations regarding the management of “foreign refugees”, but certain human rights, such as access to education, employment and freedom of movement, remain dissatisfied.
The conditions of Afghan refugees in Indonesia are so bad that they are driven to despair. The suicide rate the number of refugees in Indonesia has been increasing since 2014. Ten out of 13 who committed suicide were Afghans.
Second, the Indonesian government must work with the United Nations and other countries to organize evacuation strategies for Afghans fleeing their homeland. Ensuring a safe refuge-seeking trip is essential to avoid more casualties.
Third, the Indonesian government must pressure Australia to speed up the process of resettling thousands of Afghans in Indonesia who have requested protection.
Discussions on the need to open borders and prepare for new waves of refugees are also expected to take place.
The fate of the Afghan people must be seen as a grave concern and a test for the humanity of the world.
The situation could soon worsen. Every country – including Indonesia – should be held accountable if it does not act quickly.