April 12, 2014
Bogor authorities are set to crack down on asylum seekers and refugees in the mountainous resort region of Puncak, although many local people have no objection to their presence and activities, which have reportedly caused no trouble for the community.
Residents of Batu Kasur village in Batulayang said the asylum seekers and refugees, who have left their home countries in the Middle East, should not be removed, but that the relevant authorities should instead help them to solve their problems.
The villagers’ testimonies contradict a recent statement from a Bogor official, which said that the asylum seekers and refugees had caused trouble for local people.
“We want the regency of Bogor to be free of [asylum seekers] due to the trouble they have caused to local communities,” Bogor public security agency head Rizal Hidayat said.
He said last week that residents had complain about unruly behavior from the asylum seekers, such as bringing home sex workers and being rowdy. He added that their presence had become a nuisance.
A large number of asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, are using the Puncak area of Bogor regency as a place of transit while they apply for official refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Jakarta.
Most of them hope to reach a third country such as Australia, due to the peaceful conditions and the perceived job prospects there.
In contrast to Rizal’s statement, 60-year-old vendor Popon said that she did not mind the asylum seekers living in her neighborhood because they all had exhibited good behavior and helped to boost the local economy.
“I don’t know about the asylum seekers in other villages, but over here, they do not cause any trouble,” Popon told The Jakarta Post on Sunday.
According to Waspud “Budi”, a Kuningan-born resident who is renting houses to asylum seekers and refugees in Batu Kasur, those living in his neighborhood are abiding by the rules set by the community.
“In order to live in this neighborhood, we give them a set of rules to abide by, including not disturbing the peace of residents, respecting a 10 p.m. noise curfew and not bringing sex workers into the homes. So far, they have not broken the rules,” Budi said on Sunday.
Budi added that the presence of the asylum seekers and refugees had benefitted the neighborhood economically.
“They spend money at our warung [food stalls] and markets, helping to boost the local economy. They are also helpful people, despite not speaking our language,” he added.
The majority of the asylum seekers cannot speak English or Indonesian. Due to the language barrier, many of them do not interact with local residents.
“We rarely interact with the locals directly, but at the mosques we exchange friendly looks,” said Qurban Ali, an Afghan-born refugee from Quetta, Pakistan, who has been living in Batu Kasur for eight months. He has only been learning English for three months and speaks no Indonesian.
Similarly, Ishaq Ali, a 33-year-old former school librarian from Jaghori, Afghanistan, who is fluent in English, said that despite the language barrier, he found the residents helpful.
“The residents here are helpful. Even though I speak very little Indonesian, it seems to be enough for them to understand me,” he said.
Qurban and Ishaq, who are not related, are both Afghan-born asylum seekers. They have applied for official refugee status from the UNHCR office, and each share a house with four or five other Afghanis in Batu Kasur village.
Qurban, a father of five who was previously a dried fruit merchant in Quetta, received his refugee card from the UNHCR eight months ago. After being granted legal refugee status, the UN said that he would be relocated to Australia. However, Qurban does not know when that will happen.
Ishaq has not yet received his card, due to the fact that he has only been in Indonesia for around a month.
When asked about the prospect of being evicted by the Bogor government, both men were unsure where they would go if they were asked to leave their current homes.
“If the [Bogor] government asks us to leave this area, I don’t know where I could go,” Qurban remarked.
According to the Bogor Immigration Office, 254 refugees are registered in Bogor regency. Over recent years, the administration has sent 257 asylum seekers to detention centers across Indonesia.
On April 14, the Bogor Immigration Office — along with the Bogor public security agency, the police and the Law and Human Rights Ministry — intends to conduct a campaign to inform local residents, as well as the asylum seekers and refugees, of the plan to eject them from Bogor regency.
The campaign will involve informing residents that lease their houses to the asylum seekers and refugees of the plan.