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Australia is blocking refugees registered in Indonesia. What will happen now?
The Guardian (Australia) - November 19, 2014
The immigration minister announced on Tuesday that asylum seekers would no longer be resettled in Australia if they registered after that date. Labor, Greens and human rights groups have condemned the changes.
In 2013, UNHCR figures put the population of refugees in Indonesia at 3,206, with a further 7,100 having sought asylum.
Of those who applied for refugee status in Indonesia in 2013, the largest number were from Afghanistan with 41.5% of claims. Burma and Iran were the next largest sources of asylum seekers, with 14.2% and 12.6% respectively.
The UNHCR also provides figures on the rate of asylum claims that it considers well-founded. Those claiming asylum in Indonesia were overwhelmingly likely to be granted refugee status, with an average rate of 80%, well above the global rate of 32%.
The federal government will be able to make the policy change without introducing any regulation or law, because it will not affect the number of asylum seekers who can be settled in Australia under the humanitarian program.
David Manne of the Refugee and Immigration Law Centre said: "It's an appalling decision which is likely to place more lives at risk by leaving refugees trapped in limbo or forced to flee back to the types of dangers they've already fled from. It also represents a fundamental shirking of our country's obligations to share the responsibility for protecting refugees in our region."
Other experts on Indonesian law and politics have warned that the decision may have broader impacts on the region. Antje Missbach, a research fellow at Monash University, said the UNHCR process in Indonesia was slow and resettlement could take anywhere between two and five years.
"The last bit of hope that they had was going through a really time-consuming resettlement process, which meant they would no longer go on boats. So a lot of people in a way gave in to this much longer process, which is now quite a waste of time," she said.
"Basically the time between the very first registration and the interview is a year, and in that time they're not entitled to any financial support and that creates a lot of desperation. We see a lot of people sleeping on the streets or in mosques when they have run out of money."
She said some asylum seekers were going to prison rather than living on the streets. "What we see this year is a really strange phenomenon. Because a lot of people are running out of money they are voluntarily trying to go to prison, because they are trying not to starve," she said.
She said the change could lead to more asylum seekers trying to come to Australia by boat. "People might desire to take such a dangerous journey again because they feel like they have no other option," she said.
Australia's relationship with Indonesia has been fraught after several inadvertent naval incursions into Indonesian waters arising from Australia's policy of towing back asylum seeker vessels.
The director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, Tim Lindsey, said the government's decision was likely to exacerbate tension.
"This policy does nothing about the significant number of asylum seekers already in Indonesia, and that is an issue of significant concern from the Indonesian government. It is therefore likely that this policy will be met with the usual frustration in government circles in Indonesia," he said.
"Indonesia is like a kind of bottleneck and asylum seekers there are trapped in limbo. In many cases they can't easily go back to their countries of origin and there is a significant number of non-Indonesians trapped in Indonesia."
The UNHCR said it was discussing the changes with the government. "While resettlement is a limited solution and is conducted at the discretion of resettlement countries, it is an important protection tool and responsibility-sharing mechanism for the growing number of displaced people around the world," it said.