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Beyond limbo, building lives: Livelihood strategies of refugees and asylum seekers in Java, Indonesia

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Published by the Refugee Law Initiative in July, 2019. Download PDF here.


Refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia face a protracted and precarious wait to secure solutions to their plights. Indonesia is not party to the Refugee Convention and does not give refugees basic rights or the option of local integration. Resettlement to a third country, once the main durable solution that people waited years to attain, has become increasingly unlikely. In late 2017, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) began informing refugees that most would never be resettled. With the volatile situations in their home countries making voluntary return untenable for most, refugees are left with no choice but to try to build a life, without rights, in Indonesia. Without the right to work, vulnerability, poverty and dependency are rife. Support from local organisations is limited and around 40 per cent of the 13,800 refugees and asylum seekers are without any assistance. This research focuses on the refugees and asylum seekers who have settled independently in urban areas and looks at how they create their lives in a ‘transit’ country that lost its transience. Beyond physical deprivation, the prohibition on work creates forced immobility, a limbo that breeds feelings of being stuck in-between, waiting for life to begin. Along with understanding how people are surviving, this paper also addresses how the inability to work interacts with individuals’ sense of purpose and agency. It looks at livelihood activities to identify how initiatives that encourage self-reliance, skills development and empowerment help refugees to create solutions for themselves and foster the belief that life is, once again, moving forward.