UN Migration Agency Facilitates Release of Refugees from Indonesian Detention Centres

Refugee and Asylum Issues

Jakarta – IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has facilitated the release of over 500 refugees from immigration detention centres in North Sumatra, Riau, and Riau Island provinces to community housing.    

The release of the Afghan, Somali and Sudanese migrants took place between 29 November and 6 February, and was organized in close cooperation with Indonesia’s Immigration Department, local government officials and police.

All of the released migrants had been intercepted and detained by the Indonesian authorities while trying to reach Australia. While in detention they were identified as refugees by UNHCR. This made them eligible for release and housing in the community, where they will await third country resettlement or voluntary return to their home countries when it is deemed safe to do so.

IOM has worked with Indonesia and Australia since 2000 to combat people smuggling and provide assistance and protection to stranded migrants and refugees. It has assisted over 23,600 people over the past 18 years and its current active caseload amounts to some 8,600 migrants.

The migrants are spread across the Indonesian archipelago, living either in one of 12 immigration detention centres, in temporary shelters or in community housing sites.

While Indonesia often allows refugees, vulnerable migrants and families, particularly those with children, to live in the community, single men seeking asylum are usually detained.  

Indonesian detention centres are often overcrowded and many detainees experience difficult living conditions. IOM provides critical food security, nutrition, education for children, medical aid and psychosocial support. It also steps in to do emergency repair works and improves safety, water, hygiene, and sanitation conditions when necessary.      

IOM has always advocated for alternatives to detention, resulting in the successful establishment of open migrant housing facilities across the country. Since 2010, it has facilitated the release of over 8,200 refugees from detention centres and continues to argue for the release of all of them, while they await durable solutions, including resettlement.

At the same time, IOM has been building the human rights capacity of Indonesian law enforcement officials since 2003. Over the past 15 years the organization has sensitized almost 150,000 officials on human rights, counter-trafficking, counter-smuggling and migrant protection.   

“We have been working in Indonesia for almost 40 years now, always promoting dignity and respect for migrants,” said IOM Indonesia Chief of Mission Mark Getchell.  “We work very closely with the government, particularly the Directorate General of Immigration, towards ensuring the well-being of migrants, with a special focus on the most vulnerable. Every day our staff in the field are working to get migrants out of detention, into the community, and to provide life-sustaining assistance inside the detention centres.”

“It’s been very difficult in detention, but now we are all very happy,” said Ahmed*, one of the newly released Afghan refugees. “It’s getting better by the day. Now, we can move around more freely. We understand the value of freedom and also the need to live harmoniously and peacefully in the community. We are very grateful to Indonesia and Indonesians for accepting us into their community as we await our resettlement abroad.”   

*Name changed for reasons of privacy.

For more information please contact George Gigauri at IOM Indonesia. Email: [email protected], Tel. +62 811 870 2836.

  • Refugees leave Tanjung Pinang immigration detention centre for new community housing. Photo: IOM