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 Jakarta post

 by Jennie S. Bev 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed in Article 14 that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

In Article 15, it stated that everyone has the right to a nationality and no one should be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality, or denied the right to change it.

These two articles are underlying principles for all nations to acknowledge political and religious refugees’ rights to resettle.

Has Indonesia adhered to these principles in its handling of refugees?

So far, Indonesia has been perceived as less welcoming toward refugees. In the past, Pulau Galang, in Riau, was established as a transit shelter for Vietnamese refugees.

In October this year (2009), Sri Lankan refugees were refused by the local government of Riau, on the basis they were “illegal” immigrants and the notion that Indonesia is not a “dumping ground.”

Such judgmental notions toward foreigners are common in Indonesia, which is not something to be proud about.

While illegal immigration is a serious issue, refugees of all kinds of persecutions must be respected and handled humanely.

Mindless and appalling comments from local authorities must be minimized as they are not only humiliating, but importantly, they are inhumane.

Government officials must realize that refugees’ basic human rights are identical to ours. And perhaps someday, in an unfortunate incident, we too might need refuge in a foreign country.

The only difference between us and these refugees is that they have claimed “well-founded fear.”

Such a claim must be investigated carefully and graciously, without causing any further harm.

Presumption of innocence must be maintained, while refugee seekers provide evidence of their claim.

Historically speaking, Indonesia has been very stingy in terms of granting citizenship and anything related to immigration. The typical argument was “narrow nationalism,” where people presumed to have arrived from other countries were often perceived as not “Indonesian enough,” thanks to the ius sanguinis principle.

My late grandfather, who migrated from Hong Kong after leaving his birthplace Shanghai when he was 13 years old, obtained his Indonesian nationality in his 70s after residing in Indonesia for approximately 50 years. For five decades, he was a stateless man.

Compared with the USA, while a claim of refugee status must be backed up with institutional and unique, case-by-case legal evidence, Indonesia has no clear refugee resettlement policy.

In the minds of field officials, international refugees are often perceived as illegal and vice versa.

Distinctions between the two must be established. Moreover, the media must be objective and not lean toward what the government officials refer them as “illegal immigrants.”

The US Immigration and Nationality Act defines a “refugee” as any person who lives outside any country of their nationality or, in the case of a person with no nationality, is outside any country where this person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country because of persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

The keywords here are “well-founded fear” and “persecution.” These two elements must exist to distinguish a bona fide refugee from an illegal immigrant.

The latter usually undergoes migration process and resettlement in a new country under other grounds, including economic, educational and other non-persecution motives. In refugees, the possibility —or probability— of “death” and “torture” are present whenever they return to their home country.

There is always a risk that a refugee is not bona fide, instead they are simply an illegal immigrant in
disguise.

However, we cannot afford to avoid helping our fellow humans who are in grave danger and severely suffering simply because of a few liars.

We should always remember that everyone has the right to have a place they can call home. And in today’s society, this means one must have a nationality. No one should be stateless, whatever reason.

A world free from persecution is our ultimate goal. For now, let’s make sure that everyone has a nationality and it is obtainable in a respectful and humane manner, within a reasonable timeframe.

The Jakarta Post, December 14, 2009

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