more on: migration

Asylum Seekers

+ Kari Kohn

The Global Mail has a series of articles on Middle Eastern and South Asian asylum seekers who travel through Indonesia in hopes of starting a new life in Australia.  Here’s an excerpt from a recent article on the tradeoffs between staying and going:

It’s true that people are driven to leave Quetta for economic reasons, but it’s the violence and fearing for their lives that drives their economic distress. Travelling to Australia is expensive — at least $10,000-$15,000 — but the safe arrival of one family member can aid the survival of extended families back home, who send their young men, despite the fact that dying at sea may be more likely than being killed by extremists.

The articles highlight the slow process of seeking asylum through the UNHCR, the business of people smuggling, and the controversial policies in place to combat the unsanctioned migration.  This article describes the realities that asylum seekers face on the ground once they make it to Indonesia.

Once on a boat to Australia, asylum seekers tend to generate headlines, whether they make it to their destination or drown on the way. But often overlooked are the inner workings of a state of limbo that has become the norm for these people once they reach Indonesia; it’s a key transit point, mainly for asylum seekers who come from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Burma.…After arriving in Indonesia — often on smuggler-sponsored routes across Asia, on which a guide costs between $6,000 and $12,000 per person — asylum seekers usually follow a well-defined path to the area around Jalan Jaksa, a seedy strip of bars and hotels in central Jakarta. Nearby is the UNHCR office, where people put their names down for asylum-seeker status. Securing an interview usually takes many months, which is in turn followed by a long wait for any sort of decision on their case. Being resettled in another country can take years, and relatively few achieve it. In the meantime, adults are forbidden to work, and children have very little chance of receiving a proper education.Scouts for the people smugglers scope out the area around Jalan Jaksa for potential customers. Asylum seekers pass around numbers for contacting smugglers, often via the smugglers’ low-level operatives. Some asylum seekers depart with the smugglers within a matter of days, at an average cost of about $5,000 per person. Some arrive in Indonesia with no plan to catch a boat, no matter how long the legitimate resettlement process might take. Others find out they have too little money for the trip. Others lose their nerve when they realise just how likely they are to become one of the hundreds who die at sea.…With work banned, one of the only ways to actually earn money is to help the smugglers. Many of the big operators have no claim to asylum themselves, but their subordinates are often asylum seekers. Working as a smugglers’ agent can bring in decent money, as well as a free berth on a boat to Australia in the future.

Charter cities have a role to play in a world where people risk their lives and incur huge expenses for a chance to go to a place where they can create a better life for their families. Australia and Indonesia should consider the option of a new city that is open to would-be asylum seekers — there are a number of possible arrangements that could work.

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