Refugees protest in Indonesia over Australia border policy

JAKARTA: Thousands of refugees protested in Indonesia Tuesday, saying they had been stranded in the Southeast Asian nation for years because of Australia’s tighter border policies.

Demonstrations were held in several cities including the capital Jakarta and Makassar on Sulawesi island where some 600 protesters demonstrated in front of the Australian consulate.

They presented a letter to diplomats calling on Canberra to reverse its “inhumane” entry rules for refugees in Indonesia.

Many had hoped to resettle in neighbouring Australia.

“We… have been held here in this limbo in the absence of our fundamental rights,” the letter said, adding that some refugees were suffering “mental, psychological and behavioural disorders”.

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A group of 15 refugees in Jakarta threatened to hold a hunger strike.

Most of the 14,000 refugees in Indonesia are from Afghanistan, Somalia and Myanmar, often living in detention centres or on the streets.

Indonesia has few resources to deal with refugees and has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention, which outlines the rights of displaced people.

“We will continue to protest until our key demand — which is resettlement to a third country — is met,” said Shams, a 20-year-old Afghan refugee, at a protest on Batam island near Singapore.

Australia has come under fire for turning back migrants — including would-be refugees — heading to the country by boat, sending them to offshore detention centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and in the small Pacific nation of Nauru.  

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