Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Indonesia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Indonesia , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Nearly 1.4 million Indonesians were internally displaced in 19 of the country's 30 provinces at the end of 2001. These included 336,800 persons in Maluku, 217,000 in Southeast Sulawesi, 205,800 in North Maluku, 169,800 in East Java (mostly on the island of Madura), 85,900 in Central Sulawesi, 56,800 in West Kalimantan, 49,000 in North Sumatra, 48,700 in North Sulawesi, 35,800 in South Sulawesi, 16,800 in Irian Jaya (Papua), and 12,300 in Aceh. Thousands more were displaced elsewhere in Java, Sumatra, and the islands of Nusa Tenggara.

Indonesia hosted more than 81,000 refugees and asylum seekers at year's end. The vast majority, an estimated 80,000, were East Timorese, almost all of whom were believed to be in the Indonesian territory of West Timor.

In addition to the East Timorese, 541 refugees recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 806 asylum seekers awaiting UNHCR status determinations were in Indonesia. Most refugees and asylum seekers were Iraqis and Afghans who had tried to reach Australia, while others were from Sri Lanka, Iran, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Algeria.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and has no system for granting refugee status. Indonesian authorities permit asylum seekers to remain in Indonesia while UNHCR assesses their claims, and allows UNHCR-recognized refugees to remain pending identification of a durable solution – usually resettlement in another country.

At least 5,300 Indonesians were refugees and asylum seekers in other countries at year's end. The largest number – some 5,100 – were refugees from the province of Irian Jaya (also known as Papua) living in Papua New Guinea, while nearly 180 Acehnese refugees and asylum seekers were in Malaysia. Smaller numbers of Acehnese, Moluccans, and other Indonesians sought asylum in various countries, including Thailand and the United States.

An estimated 3,000 Acehnese lived in Malaysia in refugee-like circumstances.

In June, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) conducted a site visit to Indonesia to assess the cooperative efforts of Indonesia and Australia in handling the increasing numbers of asylum seekers who come to Indonesia in the hope of reaching Australia.

Events of 2001

Deadly bombings of Christian churches throughout Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000, by unknown perpetrators, set the stage for another turbulent year. Public opinion turned on President Abdurrahman Wahid as early as February, when editorials denounced him as incompetent and demonstrators in Jakarta, the capital, called for his resignation. The army rejected Wahid's request to declare a state of emergency, indicating an unwillingness to bolster the president's diminishing authority.

On April 30, the Parliament approved a second censure motion against Wahid. The president tenaciously clung to power, repeatedly reshuffled cabinet posts, and on July 22, issued a decree to disband the national assembly. The next day, however, the Parliament finally ousted Wahid from power. Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri was installed as president.

Soon after taking office, Megawati was confronted with two major events that carried potential long-term implications: Australia's policy shift toward asylum seekers, and the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

In late August, Australia refused entry to a ship carrying more than 400 asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan, who had been rescued from a sinking Indonesian fishing vessel. The event caused tensions between the two countries, with Australia saying Indonesia should do more to curb smuggling and Indonesia denying that it was at fault. In the aftermath, Indonesia and Australia announced plans for a regional anti-smuggling conference to be held on the Indonesian island of Bali in February 2002.

The events of September 11 highlighted Indonesia's difficulties in balancing domestic demands of hard-line and moderate Muslim groups with international pressures for Indonesia to implement democratic reforms. Anti-American demonstrations in Jakarta were short-lived, but tensions associated with the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan temporarily disrupted humanitarian aid programs, most notably in Maluku.

In October, the cash-strapped Indonesian government unveiled what it called its new policy for managing internally displaced persons. By implementing one of three possible alternatives (return of persons to their place of origin, assisted "settlement" in an existing community, or relocation to another part of the country), the government estimated that Indonesia's internal displacement problem could be resolved by the end of 2002. Humanitarian organizations familiar with Indonesia said the timetable was unrealistic.

Violence and Displacement in the Moluccas

Of the estimated 1.4 million internally displaced persons in Indonesia at the end of 2001, more than 542,000 were in the provinces of Maluku and North Maluku (each of which contains several islands, collectively comprising the island chain known as the Moluccas). Violence between Christians and Muslims, which began in both provinces in 1999, continued throughout 2000 and 2001. The first 18 months of the conflict displaced over half a million persons, approximately 75 percent of whom remained in the Moluccas, with most of the rest fleeing to the island of Sulawesi. The state of civil emergency imposed by the government in June 2000 remained in effect at the close of 2001, but had done little to stem the violence. By year's end, between 5,000 and 9,000 Moluccans were believed to have died since the conflict began. Members of Christian and Muslim communities have been both perpetrators and victims of the violence.

As in other regions of the country, no single factor was responsible for the continued strife between communities that had coexisted peacefully for decades. National and local political and economic factors contributed to the conflict in the Moluccas, as did decades of "transmigration," by which the government relocated some Indonesians, mostly Javanese, to less-populated islands. In addition, the Java-based Muslim warrior group Laskar Jihad ("holy war force") continued to operate at will in the Moluccas.

Calm conditions prevailed in North Maluku throughout much of 2001. The principal exception came after the events of September 11, when hard-line Muslim groups publicly advocated the expulsion of all Americans from Indonesia. Although nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) temporarily scaled back humanitarian activities, the threat proved to be exaggerated. Little new displacement occurred in North Maluku during the year, and many persons displaced previously (but who had remained in the Moluccas) were able to return to their homes.

The many international NGOs, UN agencies, and local NGOs operating in North Maluku responded to the improved security situation by decreasing direct and emergency-based assistance and increasing capacity-building, institution-strengthening, and conflict-resolution activities.

Tensions remained high, however, in Maluku Province, particularly in and around the port city of Ambon and on the island of Buru, where numerous outbreaks of deadly violence occurred.

In January, the government evacuated 648 Christians from the central Moluccan islands of Kesui and Teor to Tual in the southeast following reports that Laskar Jihad intimidation resulted in forced circumcisions and forced conversions to Islam.

On May 4, Wahid finally detained Jafar Umar Thalib, the head of Laskar Jihad, charging him with "public displays of contempt and hatred towards a particular religious group." The sporadic violence in central Maluku persisted throughout the year, preventing repatriation to central Maluku.

Violence and Displacement in Sulawesi

The island of Sulawesi hosted more than 378,000 displaced persons at the end of 2001. The largest number, as many as 216,000, were in Southeast Sulawesi Province, including the island of Buton.

In Central Sulawesi Province, some 86,000 persons remained displaced at year's end as a result of Muslim-Christian clashes. Close to 45,000 were displaced in and around the town of Poso and another 41,000 in the area of Palu. The clashes, though linked to local issues, were also related to the sectarian violence in the Moluccas.

The violence in Poso first erupted in December 1998, with other significant outbreaks in April and May 2000. Violence flared again in April 2001 after a local court ruled that three Christians would be executed for their roles in earlier violence against Muslims and for "inciting religious hatred." The renewed conflict sent both Christians and Muslims fleeing: Muslims to Palu and Christians to both Tentana – about an hour from Poso – and Manado in North Sulawesi Province. Several thousand members of Laskar Jihad were reported to have arrived in the Poso region around mid-year, some having come from Maluku. Laskar Jihad attacks intensified in June and continued throughout the year. In November, Laskar Jihad fighters looted rice intended for displaced persons.

In late December, in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar, political and religious leaders from Poso signed the Malino Declaration, pledging to end the fighting and to set up commissions to address various social, economic, and legal problems. Optimism remained guarded, however, concerning this fifth peace agreement in the region.

More than 2,500 people have died since the violence began in Sulawesi in 1998.

Violence and Displacement in Kalimantan

In February, violence erupted in the province of Central Kalimantan, particularly the towns of Sampit and Palangkarya, when ethnic Dayaks attacked ethnic Madurese. The Madurese were originally transmigrants to Kalimantan from the tiny island of Madura, off the east coast of Java.

Dayak gangs torched Madurese homes and shops, chased Madurese into nearby jungles, and killed and decapitated those who could not escape. After two months of violence, which had overwhelmed the available Indonesian security forces, at least 500 persons – mostly Madurese – had been killed and some 140,000 to 180,000 Madurese displaced. The displaced had either fled the province or been evacuated by government troops.

Indonesian and international observers sharply criticized the performance of Indonesian police and military forces in addressing the violence, as well as the actions of President Wahid, who remained abroad on a visit to the Middle East and North Africa during the worst of the crisis. Local police failed to keep the violence from escalating, and reinforcements were slow to arrive. Once they did, they were unable to provide safe passage for many Madurese. In several reported incidents, police and army personnel fought among themselves, resulting in several deaths and forcing redeployments. Fleeing Madurese said that security forces demanded bribes at various points in the evacuation.

While security forces relocated some Madurese to West Kalimantan or Java, they took most to Madura, despite the fact that most of the ethnic Madurese – having relocated to Kalimantan decades earlier – were strangers to Madura. With scarce land and jobs, Madura was ill equipped to care for the new arrivals.

The 2001 violence in Central Kalimantan was the third major outbreak of ethnic conflict on the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo (which Indonesia shares with Malaysia) over a five-year period. The first two outbreaks – in 1996-97 and 1999 – were confined to the neighboring province of West Kalimantan. All three of the outbreaks, however, involved clashes between ethnic Madurese and indigenous Dayaks and/or ethnic Malays.

In November, the government said it would soon return the evacuated Madurese to their homes in Kalimantan. A month later, however, a UN report said the government perceived such returns as "unrealistic." The People's Congress of Central Kalimantan had recommended in September that the Madurese wait between 5 and 25 years before returning.

At year's end, an estimated 57,000 Madurese were internally displaced in the province of West Kalimantan. The vast majority were from the coastal district of Sambas, which has experienced sporadic ethnic clashes since late 1996, while others had fled the 2001 violence in Central Kalimantan.

Most of the displaced in West Kalimantan remained in "collective centers" such as public buildings and sports facilities in and around Pontianak, the provincial capital. Although many Madurese wished to return to their homes in Sambas, local Dayaks and Malays declared deadlines for the complete removal of the Madurese from West Kalimantan, threatening further violence if the Madurese did not leave. After one such threat in July, local officials evacuated 137 families from a center in Pontianak. In November, the Indonesian government said that it would discontinue free health care for displaced persons in West Kalimantan after December 15 and would dismantle the displaced-persons centers by March 2002.

Uprooted Acehnese

At year's end, some 12,300 persons were displaced within Aceh, on the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. As in previous years, the level of displacement in Aceh fluctuated during 2001, from a high of more than 33,000 in June to fewer than 10,000 by mid-September, with numbers rising again by the end of the year.

In addition to the displaced within Aceh, thousands of Acehnese have fled to the nearby province of North Sumatra. The displaced included not only native Acehnese but also Javanese transmigrants, many of whom reported that they fled threats and abuse from native Acehnese. The Javanese received food assistance in camps where water and sanitary conditions fell below international standards. Most did not intend to return to Aceh and were awaiting compensation and relocation assistance from the government.

The Acehnese have sought independence for more than 120 years, first from Dutch colonizers and later from Indonesia. An armed independence movement known as GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) has been active in the province for more than 25 years. The Acehnese claim widespread human rights abuses by the Indonesian military and police.

In August, the government announced plans to relocate permanently some 53,000 displaced persons from Aceh, predominantly Javanese, to state-owned palm-oil plantations in North Sumatra. Despite the one-month time frame for the relocation, it was not clear by year's end whether it had taken place. In November, the government announced a similar plan to relocate 5,000 families from camps near Medan (North Sumatra) to palm-oil plantations in Riau, on the east coast of central Sumatra.

Unlike in 1999 and 2000, no massive new displacement occurred within Aceh during 2001. As in previous years, displaced persons electing to remain within Aceh tended to stay in mosques, schools, and other public buildings in the vicinity of their destroyed homes. A UN report in late December said that nine camps in East Aceh that sheltered mainly women and children received no governmental or NGO assistance, with camp residents surviving largely on donations from travelers on the main road.

Despite security constraints, several international organizations – such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and Save the Children – were working in Aceh, sometimes in partnership with local NGOs. However, their activities were constrained by violence, particularly outside the provincial capital.

Nearly 1,700 people died in violence in Aceh during 2001. Human Rights Watch described most of the deaths as civilians killed during military action. However, in many instances it was difficult to verify independently the identity of the perpetrators. Although GAM has acted to remove Javanese from the province, the Indonesian army has attacked villages and settlements that it suspects of harboring GAM members. Both sides often wear civilian clothing and blame the opposition for attacks.

A formal "humanitarian pause" in the fighting instituted in June 2000 was followed by a "moratorium on violence" in January 2001 and a "Peace through Dialogue" process from February to June 2001. None of these measures, however, was effective in stemming the violence.

On August 11, the new president, Megawati, signed a law granting "special autonomy" to Aceh, while announcing that she had no plans to grant the Acehnese independence. Under the new law, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2002, Aceh would be able to determine its own judicial and education systems, receive increased revenues from its oil and gas resources, and implement Islamic Sharia law. The Acehnese, however, were skeptical of the government's promises, having supposedly been granted autonomy by previous Indonesian governments. The Acehnese also emphasized that they had never requested Sharia law but, rather, an end to human rights abuses.

In her first state-of-the-nation address, Megawati apologized to both Acehnese and Papuans (the people of Irian Jaya) for what she called "very oppressive" policies of the past and promised to make "basic corrections" and to settle past human rights violations. Her words, however, had little effect, as fully half of the year's separatism-related deaths in Aceh occurred after she assumed the presidency.

Irian Jaya (Papua)

Indonesia's easternmost province of Irian Jaya, also known as Papua, hosted some 16,900 internally displaced persons at year's end. Most of the displaced were believed to be from either Maluku or North Maluku. Others were Papuans.

An independence movement known as Free Papua Movement (OPM) has operated in Irian Jaya since Indonesia forcibly took control of the region in 1963. In addition, as in other provinces, decades of transmigration and Jakarta's appropriation of local revenues from resource exploitation have led to clashes and displacement in Irian Jaya.

An autonomy bill, which the Parliament approved in October and which will take effect January 1, 2002, grants the province up to 80 percent of revenues from forestry, fishing, gas, oil, and mining activities. The bill also officially renames the province Papua – a move long demanded by the Papuan people.

On November 10, Papuan pro-independence leader Theys Eluay was abducted near Jayapura, the provincial capital. His body was later found near the Papua New Guinea border. At year's end, his killing remained unsolved.

East Timorese in West Timor

Reliable estimates of the number of East Timorese remaining in West Timor were difficult to obtain. Repatriation to East Timor resumed during the year, but was much more sporadic and smaller-scale than in 2000. By September, the Indonesian government appeared to be committed to returning the majority of the refugees to East Timor, rather than resettling them to other parts of Indonesia. UNHCR estimated that 80,000 refugees were still in West Timor at year's end, of whom 57,000 were expected to return to East Timor. UNHCR extended its voluntary repatriation operation for the refugees until June 2002.

Refugees' continued fear for their safety in East Timor prevented many from repatriating. Refugees whom the Indonesian government said were Indonesian civil servants or members of the military – 23 percent of the total – expressed concern that they could continue drawing their salaries (or pensions) only if they remained in Indonesia.

With few exceptions, international aid agencies did not reopen their offices in West Timor following the murder of three UNHCR staff in Atambua in September 2000, although the Indonesian government tried unsuccessfully throughout 2001 to convince relief organizations that it was safe to return. UNHCR officially resumed operations in West Timor, but only from its office in Dili, East Timor. At mid-year, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) identified itself as the only humanitarian agency providing relief to the camps.

JRS reported progressively deteriorating conditions in the camps and increased child mortality from a diarrhea epidemic as the combined result of floods, the absence of foreign aid workers, and the continued presence of pro-Indonesia militia and Indonesian military in the camps. In addition, disputes between refugees and local residents erupted over land and resource use.

In March, nearly 500 East Timorese returned to East Timor from Kupang, West Timor by boat, raising hopes for increased repatriation. Subsequent repatriation was delayed, however, because of militia intimidation of the refugees. The returns later resumed, and UNHCR reported that 7,200 East Timorese returned home during the first six months of the year.

In May, a Jakarta court handed down jail sentences of 16 to 20 months for six East Timorese men convicted of the September 2000 deaths of the three UNHCR workers in West Timor. The light sentences outraged the international community and rekindled doubt about Indonesia's commitment to prosecuting human rights offenses and pursuing judicial reform.

In early June, the Indonesian government held a two-day refugee registration in West Timor to identify refugees who wanted to return to East Timor. The government said that the registration revealed that more than 95 percent of the refugees wanted to remain in Indonesia. Critics, however, charged that international monitors were largely absent from the registration posts and that militia intimidation prevented the genuine desires of the refugees from being known.

The peaceful election in East Timor in August helped increase the pace of repatriations. Some 3,200 refugees returned in October alone. UNHCR reported that 17,300 East Timorese repatriated from West Timor during the year, while another 660 East Timorese returned from other parts of Indonesia.

In early October, the Indonesian government announced that it would revoke refugee status and cut off all humanitarian aid to any East Timorese refugees who remained after December 31. The government claimed that the refugees had become dependent on aid, and said that they would need to work to support themselves if they stayed past the deadline. Jakarta offered the refugees two options: repatriation to East Timor or relocation within Indonesia. The government agreed to provide each repatriating family the equivalent of $70 (750,000 rupiah). East Timorese president-elect Xanana Gusmao and East Timorese archbishop Carlos Ximenes Belo actively supported the repatriation and visited the camps several times throughout 2001 to encourage return.

UNHCR confirmed that the Indonesian government had stopped delivery of food aid as of December 31, but had not revoked refugee status.

Middle Eastern and South Asian Asylum Seekers

Because of Indonesia's proximity to Australian island territories off the Australian mainland, increasing numbers of Australia-bound migrants have transited through Indonesia in recent years. Most have been asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq, with smaller numbers from Iran and elsewhere. Most arrive with the help of organized smugglers.

For this reason, the Australian government has established "regional cooperation arrangements" with parties in Indonesia – the government, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) – that have a role in detecting and assisting the asylum seekers. Although Australia's primary goal is to prevent the arrival in Australia of these or future "unauthorized migrants," UNHCR works to ensure the protection of asylum seekers. UNHCR also provides assistance, and seeks resettlement, for those approved as refugees. IOM provides housing and assistance for persons not yet approved as refugees by UNHCR, and facilitates voluntary return for persons who choose that option. Australia pays the costs incurred by IOM and UNHCR prior to UNHCR's determination that an individual is a refugee, and provides training to the Indonesian government in activities related to human smuggling.

During 2001, more than 1,500 asylum seekers intercepted and assisted through these arrangements were in at least 15 locations throughout Indonesia. Estimates of the total number of Australia-bound asylum seekers in Indonesia – including those not yet known to UNHCR or IOM – reached 4,000 or more.

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