Jakarta. James Riady, founder and chairman of Pelita Harapan University, expressed concern over asylum seekers’ access to education and health care after speaking with several of them during a visit to a temporary shelter in Kalideres, West Jakarta, on Saturday.
“They really appreciate the Jakarta government’s efforts [to place them in a temporary shelter]. They were sleeping on sidewalks, but now they have a place, even though it’s very small,” said James, who is also deputy chairman for education and health at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Kadin).
He said there are currently about 1,400 people living in the building, which was only designed for a maximum of 100 people, which also means that sanitary facilities, such as toilets and clean running water, are inadequate.
Besides that, he said refugees’ access to education and health care must also be addressed.
“Half of these refugees are children who are missing out on formal and nonformal education each year,” James said, adding that he would see what he could do to help.
“In the end, they want a permanent solution. We have collected all their inputs; we will see what we can do,” he said.
“They wish for a better future. The UN has a program to channel refugees to several countries that signed the convention and accept refugees; that is why they spent their money to leave their countries,” James said, referring to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who a refugee is, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
He said some of the refugees are educated and competent, adding that contrary to popular belief, they are not criminals. He expressed hope that people would respond positively and help them.
“Someday, they will definitely leave. These 14,000 refugees could become good ambassadors for Indonesia if we show them love,” James said.
The refugees and asylum seekers were relocated to the temporary shelter in Kalideres earlier this month after squatting on the streets in front of the offices of the UN Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, in Central Jakarta.
They expressed frustration with slow progress by the UNHCR in processing their resettlement applications. Many have been in limbo in Jakarta for years – some up to seven years.
Thomas Vargas, the UNHCR’s representative for Indonesia, said the agency does not have enough funding at the moment to properly care for the refugees and asylum seekers. The Jakarta provincial government has been helping to meet the refugees’ basic needs, such as settling them in Kalideres, despite objection by residents.
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