Accommodating Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Indonesia: From Immigration Detention to Containment in 'Alternatives to Detention'.

Author:Missbach, Antje


Considered the last 'stepping stone' before Australia, Indonesia plays an important role in immobilising secondary movements of asylum seekers and refugees in Southeast Asia. While migration scholarship has dedicated substantial attention to immigration detention and the deplorable living conditions inside immigration detention centres (IDCS), this article explores "alternatives to detention" (ATD) in two Indonesian localities: the city of Makassar and the province of Aceh. Seeking to contribute to a critical examination of ATD more generally, this article examines individual freedom, mobility, mechanisms of care and aid provision, protection of rights, self-determination, and matters of personal safety. The article illustrates the remaining limitations and the lack of rights that asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia continue to face outside of IDCS. A durable solution, in the form of integration, is not available to asylum seekers and refugees, as they are prevented from integrating into the local host societies, and their social and economic mobility remains widely restricted. Yet at the same time, despite more physical mobility in ATD, asylum seekers and refugees remain contained within Indonesia as their onward movement remains deterred as well.


Consideree comme le dernier tremplin vers l'Australie, l'Indonesie joue un role important pour bloquer les mouvements secondaires des demandeurs d'asile et des refugies en Asie du Sud-Est. Tandis que les etudes sur la migration se sont beaucoup focalisees sur la la detention des immigrants et les conditions de vie deplorables dans les les centres de detention des immigrants (CDI), cet article explore des alternatives a la detention (AD) a deux endroits d'Indonesie: la ville de Makassar et la province d'Aceh. A des fins plus generales de contribution critique sur les CDI, il etudie la liberte individuelle, la mobilite, les mecanismes de soins et les dispositions d'aides, a protection des droits, l'autodetermination, et les questions de securitepersonnelle. II illustre enfin les limites persistantes et le manque de droits auxquelsfont toujours face, en Indonesie, les demandeurs d'asile et les refugies a lexterieur des CDI. Dufait qu'on les empeche de s'integrer aux societes hotes locales et que leur mobilite sociale et economique est extremement limitee, on ne leur offre pas de solution durable sous la forme d'une integration. En depit d'une certaine mobilite physique dans le cadre des ad, les demandeurs d'asile et les refugies restent confines a l'interieur de l'Indonesie dufait qu'on les decourage egalement d'aller de l'avant.


In June 2013, Human Rights Watch published a damning report entitled Barely Surviving: Detention, Abuse, and Neglect of Migrant Children in Indonesia, which highlighted the situation of hundreds of incarcerated minor asylum seekers and refugees in immigration detention centres (IDCS); it also provided insights into the more general situation of almost 13,000 adult asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia at the time. (1) Primary responsibility for the lack of protection, maltreatment, and abuse in detention was attributed to the Indonesian government, (2) but Human Rights Watch attributed secondary responsibility to the Australian government, which had long provided substantial funding to the Indonesian immigration detention system in order to deter the irregular onward movement of those immobilized people to Australia. (3) Exactly one year later, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) introduced a new global strategy, "Beyond Detention 2014-2019," to help governments cease detaining asylum seekers and refugees. The three main goals agreed under this strategy are "(1) to end the detention of children; (2) to ensure that alternatives to detention (ATD) are available in law and implemented in practice; and (3) to improve conditions of detention, where detention is necessary and unavoidable, to meet international standards." (4) To assist Indonesia implement the strategy, a National Action Plan was drawn up with relevant Indonesian ministries, the UNHCR office in Jakarta and its local implementing partners, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (komnas ham). (5)

In light of growing recognition of detentions harm to detainees as well as its high financial costs, governments around the world are exploring more cost-effective and humane options for accommodating immobilized asylum seekers and refugees. (6) ATD rose to greater international attention with the launch of UNHCR's "Beyond Detention" strategy in 2015. An outcome of intense lobbying by NGOS, such as the International Detention Coalition (a global network of more than 300 NGOS) and Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APPRN), the strategy picks up the call for accommodating asylum seekers in residential housing, open transit facilities, and shelters in local communities while their immigration statuses are being processed. (7) Indonesian NGOS are involved in these NGO networks, but they were not the driving forces behind the campaigns.

There is no single legal definition of what determines ATD. While some scholars understand ATD to be a range of policies and practices employed by sovereign states to better manage immigration falling short of incarceration, (8) Sampson et al. have suggested a number of minimum standards, including respect for fundamental rights, meeting basic needs, legal status and documentation, legal advice and interpretation, fair and timely case resolution, and regular review of placement decisions, which must be met in order qualify as ATD. (9) This article presents ATD as the physical and spatial lodging of asylum seekers and refugees outside prison-like IDCS. Although seen as improvements over closed institutions, ATD also need further review before wide-scale adoption; however, the little critical research into ATD that has been conducted thus far has been confined to countries of the Global North. (10)

Three years after the launch of the "Beyond Detention" strategy, the article explores living conditions in Indonesian ATD in order to document what the gradual shift from IDCS to ATD has brought for those affected by it. While recent migration scholarship has produced a large critical body of literature on detention, (11) with considerable attention also dedicated to Indonesian IDCS, (12) this article questions their "alternative" dimension based on my encounters with a specific empirical reality in the field. This shift of attention from IDCS to ATDis significant in light of the shifting ratio of detained and undetained asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia. (13)

The main argument put forward here is that ATD in Indonesia can be conceptualized as another form of containment, albeit with greater mobility. From this perspective, ATD mask a larger problem, one that might even be more complex than the release from IDCS, which is the lack of local integration for the asylum seekers and refugees currently in Indonesia. Local integration constitutes a durable solution, next to resettlement or voluntary repatriation. In analyzing my findings I have opted to apply the concept of carceral mobility, which I borrow from Moran, Piacentini, and Pallot. (14) Moran, Piacentini, and Pallot provide a useful starting point through challenging the widespread assumption of "mobility as an expression of power," and that "mobility is connected with autonomy ... and, ultimately, 'freedom.'" (15) Their study on contemporary prisoner transport in the Russian Federation highlights in particular the punitive control and the carceral practices inherent in (coerced) mobility of prisoners.

Seeking to further explore carceral aspects of mobility, I pay attention to asylum seekers' and refugees' limited attainment of legal rights as well as their insufficient economic and social integration that, if it was granted, would allow for a standard of living similar to that of the local population and wider social and cultural acceptance. I demonstrate that despite greater physical mobility, asylum seekers and refugees in ATD lack the freedom to live a self-determined life because there is an absence of crucial rights that could otherwise enhance their economic and social mobility. On the basis of my analysis, the carceral mobility is characterized by an absence of rights insofar as those residing in ATD are prohibited from taking up work and have difficulty accessing education, therefore fostering dependency on aid and services. Despite high levels of control and surveillance, in the form of curfews, limited visiting rights, restricted radius of mobility, and regular police checks, I found a lack of physical safety for the ATD residents, as they fear attacks and encroachments by locals, ATD sustain zones of containment with semi-permeable boundaries that on the one hand provide little safety to asylum seekers and refugees, but on the other hand prevent meaningful integration.

In writing this article I pursue four goals. First, the empirical insights

into temporary accommodation outside IDCS help produce a more holistic picture of the day-to-day reality faced by asylum seekers and refugees stuck in Indonesia. (16) Second, I contribute to the overall debate on ATD beyond the Indonesian context, particularly in regard to individual freedom, mobility, the mechanisms of care, rights, and protection, and issues of personal safety, health, and well-being of asylum seekers and refugees in protracted transit situations. Third, I document the persistent indecision of the Indonesian government on its approach to detention and ATD. I argue that the Indonesian government has repeatedly opted for inconsistent and ad hoc approaches: it vacillates amongst a permissive laissez-faire attitude that allowed thousands of asylum seekers to pass through Indonesia freely; a hasty and...

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