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Indonesian perspective on Medevac

  • 21 February 2019


On 7 February 2019 in Manado, Sulawesi, Sajjad, a 24 year old man who had just finished his undergraduate degree in information technology at a local university, doused himself with petrol and set himself on fire.

Sajjad and his parents arrived in Indonesia and claimed asylum in 2000. An initial attempt to get to Australia failed, and the family's priorities changed. They moved to Sumbawa where they focused on integrating into the local community. Sajjad and his younger sister attended school, but the family struggled to make ends meet.

In 2011, the passage of a new immigration law in Indonesia and increased pressure from Australia to detain refugees in Indonesia saw a significant change in the family's circumstances. Sajjad and his siblings were taken out of school and sent to an immigration detention center (IDC) on the northern tip of Sulawesi. This was to be their home for the next eight years. Life in prolonged detention fuelled frustration, anger, and mental anguish for Sajjad and his family.

Sajjad died of his injuries on 13 February 2019, six days after self-immolating. On the day of Sajjad's death, Australians woke to the government's claim that the passage of the 'Medevac Bill' would restart boats from Indonesia and weaken Australia's borders. But as Sajjad's life in Indonesia demonstrates, getting on a boat to Australia was either not a priority (he was a student) or not possible (he was detained).

There are 14,015 refugees in Indonesia. They live across the archipelago in locations as diverse and geographically dispersed as Jakarta and its surrounding areas (6885), Medan (2104), Makassar (1880), Tanjung Pinang and Batam (1022). The majority of people live in urban or semi-urban communities without legal status, the right to work, study or marry or, for those arriving after July 2014, access to resettlement in Australia. 4079 are children.

From years of working with refugees in Indonesia, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Indonesia knows that many people's primary concerns revolve around access to food, shelter, adequate healthcare, and education, not on boat journeys to Australia. Homelessness and destitution have been made worse by the Australian government's decision to cut IOM funding and refuse material assistance to refugees arriving in Indonesia after 15 March 2018, while continuing to fund an array of migration control policies. Approximately 5200 refugees and people seeking asylum now depend solely on savings, family support, or acts of charity. Many sleep on the streets or in