Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 17:20 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Indonesia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Indonesia , 25 May 2004, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
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.

Over 800,000 Indonesians remained internally displaced at the end of the year. Maluku hosted over 200,000, and East Java and Central Sulawei hosted well over 100,000 each. North Sulawesi, North Maluku, North Sumatra, Central Sulawesi each had displaced populations between 13,000 and 35,000. In Aceh official figures reflected 14,600 displaced, but over 100,000 thousand others remained in hiding or with relatives. Thousands more were displaced in the archipelago including in Papua and Nusa Tenggara.

About 23,600 Indonesians were refugees in neighboring countries, including some 7,800 in Papua New Guinea, where the government there recognized them as prima facie refugees but did not grant assistance or residency permits, and some 8,000 in Malaysia. Nearly 7,800 Indonesians sought asylum in the United States and Canada.

Indonesia hosted over 300 refugees and asylum seekers in 2003, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan and almost 200 asylum seekers applied to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR resettled over 300 individuals recognized under their mandate to third countries, mainly Australia, Canada, and the United States. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted over 160 rejected asylum seekers, largely from Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, voluntarily return to their home countries. Some 450 individuals left Indonesia to return to East Timor and, under its Transmigration program, the government relocated 211 East Timorese from West Timor to Kalimantan.

Some 28,100 persons from East Timor remained in West Timor at the end of 2003. Since Indonesia granted full citizenship or legal residence permits to those from East Timor remaining in Indonesia in 2003, both UNHCR and the U.S. Committee for Refugees no longer count them as refugees. Most of the Timorese remaining in Indonesia registered to become Indonesian citizens.

Asylum Seekers

Asylum seekers and refugees lack legal status in Indonesia, but the government tolerates their stay allowing them basic rights including freedom of movement and a stay of deportation until UNHCR resettles them. IOM assists asylum seekers, and UNHCR assists recognized refugees until they resettle them. The Indonesian government did not actively try to prevent asylum seekers from traveling onward to Australia. In one case, authorities provided food and fuel to Vietnamese migrants to assist them on their journey towards Australia.

Because of deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan, in October UNHCR decided to review the cases of rejected Afghans, which started in early 2004.

Internal Displacement

Displacement in Indonesia relates to former President Suharto's policy of relocation large population groups to under-populated areas. This transmigration program led to ethnic tension, and land disputes, spurning conflict and displacement.

Other than in Aceh, no major new displacement occurred during the year, and returns began or continued in Central Sulawesi, North Maluku, as well as to Maluku and central Kalimanatan. However, in the latter two areas, local hostility towards ethnic Madurese hampered major return. Returnees lacked land and property rights, housing, protection, security, jobs, and education, and there were residual tensions between communities.

The government generally cared for internally displaced persons other than the Acehenese, relying heavily on international organizations and donors. It created a plan in 2002 to help internally displaced people until the end of 2003, at which time the government assumed that the problem would be solved. Under the plan, the government gave internally displaced persons three options to solve their displacement: return, integrate in the area to which they fled with government assistance, or resettle through a relocation program. Those remaining displaced would be considered "poor," not displaced, and the responsibility of the provinces, not the central government. The government was not able to reach all displaced persons during the year and not all were offered the available options. Internally displaced persons were vulnerable to human trafficking.


In May, the government launched a major military offensive in the troubled province of Aceh and imposed martial law – initially for six months – and extended it for a further six months in November, ending the December 2002 peace agreement. The government deployed some 40,000 soldiers to attack the 5,000 rebel soldiers from the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The army and rebels murdered, tortured, abducted, beat, and raped civilians, and detained those they suspected of supporting their rivals. The government accused GAM, which had a history of destroying public buildings as symbols of the government, of burning down over 600 schools since May, which GAM denied.

The government restricted freedom of movement requiring travel letters to travel in order to monitor their movements. Officials also required residents to have new identification cards signed by the holder's local military commander, police chief, and village head. Failure to produce such a card resulted in arrest. According to local human rights groups, in some areas where GAM presence was high, the military restricted food shipments to villages, restricted hours of cultivation and fishing, and limited the amount of food each family could purchase.

Thousands died and well over 100,000 were newly internally displaced, many hiding in forests or staying with relatives and avoiding the official government camps out of fear. The army forcibly relocated individuals purportedly to separate GAM members from civilians. The army moved many into government run camps that were ill equipped to handle the volume, and lacked potable water, proper sanitation, food, and adequate medical services. Officials also frequently arrested and harassed displaced persons, accusing them of links to the rebels. The government barred foreign aid workers from the province.

At the end of the year, some 14,600 internally displaced persons remained in government-run camps in Aceh, with more than an estimated 100,000 internally displaced elsewhere.

Indonesia requested neighboring Thailand and Malaysia adopt a tough stance on refugees from Aceh, claiming that rebel leaders of the independence movement were living in these countries. Malaysia agreed to do so. Unconfirmed human rights reports indicated that Indonesia tortured and killed some who were forcibly returned. Indonesia also requested that Sweden return three accused rebel leaders living there, which Swedish officials refused to do since the individuals were Swedish citizens who had committed no crimes in Sweden.


(For background on the conflict in Kalimantan, see Some 13,000 ethnic Madurese refugees returned home to central Kalimantan between March and the end of the year. However, some regency governments including those in Barito Utaara, Barito Selatan and Kotawaringin Barat had introduced regulations that barred their return unless they could prove residence of varying length – up to ten years in some areas – and had no criminal record. Relations between the ethnic Manduese and Daykas, the conflicting parties in the 2001 inter-ethnic violence, remained poor.

Well over 100,000 Madurese from Central Kalimatan remain in East Java, waiting for security guarantees before they return.


(For background on internal displacement in Sulawesi see During the year, returns were slower than expected because of tensions between Muslims and Christians and occasional violence, including bombings and killings, mostly against non-Muslims – despite the presence of security forces. In October 2003, gunmen attacked Christians in the Morowali and Poso districts of Central Sulawesi, killing thirteen civilians, and six suspects who police shot.

Moluccas Island Chain

In September the government lifted a three-year state of emergency and ended the dawn-to-dusk curfew. In North Maluku, thousands of internally displaced persons clashed with police and soldiers claiming the government had stolen money that was meant to assist with their return.

Tensions remained in Maluku province despite the fact the government lifted its emergency status in September. Lack of security, economic problems, and land disputes hindered return in the area. The city of Ambon saw few returns because tensions.

Papua (Irian Jaya)

Serious human rights violations persisted in Papua (Irian Jaya), including extra-judicial executions, torture, arbitrary detention, and politically motivated arson. The government planned to divide the province into three separate provinces spurring further violence from separatists who opposed their plan. The government restricted freedom of movement by requiring travel letters, which were reportedly required to walk from one village to the next. The government continued to launch attacks on the separatist Free Papua Movement throughout the year.

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