Human Rights Watch Report Barely Surviving

HRW report: mistreatment of child migrants

Michelle Djekić | 10 July 2013

In its report ‘Barely Surviving,’ Human Rights Watch explicitly addresses the detention, abuse and neglect of migrant/asylum-seeking children in Indonesia, investigating the trials and tribulations of more than 100 young migrants.

The New York-based organization reports on ‘routine brutality within the local immigration detention facilities, including severe beatings, cigarette burns and subjection to electric shock by guards and other detainees. 

Nobody’s children

Child migrants intercepted in Indonesia are usually in transit to Australia. They risk their lives boarding rickety boats to set sail on a quest for a more ‘viable life’, as described by the Guardian. Most of the children are fleeing persecution, violence or poverty from Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Alice Farmer, author of the report, says that ‘Despite the risks of the onward boat journey to Australia, many migrants and asylum seekers we interviewed felt that attempting to make the trip was preferable to the hardships of life in Indonesia'. Indonesia’s archipelagic setting provides fertile ground for migrant smuggling. 

The report’s recommendations have largely been met with silence in Indonesia. The prominent Indonesian newspaper Jakarta Post only published a short statement acknowledging the existence of the report. A synopsis of the report was published in the most awarded Jakarta Globe and tagged under human rights abuses but no other major news sources covered the publication, as such.

HRW says that child victims have no way of appealing against their detention in Indonesia. They are left to fend for themselves, living in squalid conditions with little to no adult supervision and are often denied access to legal aid, food, education, employment and refuge services. Indonesia currently has no mechanisms in place for processing refugees and has yet to ratify the 1951 UN Refugee Convention (Guardian link). On a practical level, agencies like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) offer technical and capacity-building support to advance asylum policy-making and asylum-seeker processing.  

Sharing responsibility

Is it fair to put only the transit country under the lens and not the final destination country? The HRW suggests that Australia also bears responsibility for ensuring the protection of refugees. It condemns the controversial ‘Pacific Solution’, which allows asylum claims to be processed in ‘offshore facilities’ such as Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Manus Island instead of being heard in Australia. As Indonesia’s biggest donor, HRW asks Australia to lead by example and stop ‘offshore processing.’

Human right abuses continue to be widespread throughout Southeast Asia. Under the umbrella of human rights, the HRW report calls upon the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to prioritize children’s rights in regional immigration enforcement and put an end to the confinement of migrant children. The UNHCR also recommends a regional perspective on migration issues.

HRW invites international donor governments to help encourage and facilitate the development of Indonesia’s refugee laws and further strengthen its capacity to process asylum seekers. It recommends providing ‘financial and technical assistance’ to facilitate the implementation of new policies. Middle-income countries like Indonesia often boast ambitious national development agendas, which are difficult to achieve despite their economic progress. Many of these countries still host the majority of the world’s poor ‘by income poverty and multi-dimensional poverty’ but are no longer being granted proper attention by traditional donors in order to develop legal frameworks or institutions to protect human rights.

Photo credit main picture: Human Rights Watch Report Barely Surviving