Asylum seekers left high and dry in Indonesia

Asylum seekers in Indonesia are often detained for as long as 12 months while their asylum applications are processed

JAKARTA/MAKASSAR, 9 April 2014 (IRIN) – Australia’s military-led operation to prevent boats carrying asylum seekers from reaching its shores has been hailed by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as a success, with over 100 days elapsing since the last boat reached its target. But in Indonesia – the country from which most of the boats previously departed – Australia’s tough new measures have stranded over 10,000 asylum seekers and refugees who can neither proceed to their desired destination nor, in many cases, return home.

“I thought I’d be here two or three months, but it’ll probably be two or three years,” said Musa, a 17-year-old Afghan asylum seeker who has already spent a year in Indonesia, the past seven months in an immigration detention centre in Makassar, in southwest Sulawesi Island.

For several months after Australia launched Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, smugglers continued to organize passage for asylum seekers. However, those whose boats made it into Australian waters were invariably intercepted by the Australian Navy and either towed back into Indonesian waters and handed over to the Indonesian Navy or taken to one of Australia’s offshore detention centres where conditions have been described by human rights organizations as “inhumane”.

Previously Australia and Indonesia cooperated on anti-people smuggling efforts through the Bali Process (a regional 50-member mechanism established in 2002 to combat people-smuggling), but the tow-backs have caused a breakdown in relations between the two countries.

Attempts to reach Australia by boat have now largely been abandoned, both by the smugglers and their clients.

“There’s no opportunity to go by boat; no one’s trying to go now,” said Aalim Allahyar, a 44-year-old refugee from Afghanistan who fled his home and business in Helmand Province after narrowly surviving 15 days of interrogation and beatings by Taliban soldiers that left his brother and sister-in-law dead…