When we talk about refugees, more often than not we don’t shade the lights to developing countries. Being excluded from the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees doesn’t mean these countries can turn their back on the refugees. In many cases, these countries had to welcome the refugees who got turned down from their destination countries.

With consents limited to only assisting refugees to their host countries, often these transit countries aren’t equipped with legal instruments and regulations. This absence has left the refugees distraught, with little help to be socially integrated and the bare minimum in meeting their basic needs.

More than 14,000 refugees are currently staying in Indonesia scattered from Aceh, Medan, Jakarta, Makassar to the East of Indonesia. To learn more about this issue, we spoke to Febrianti Hasanah, a community facilitator volunteer of UN Migration in Makassar. Also a Research Assistant, Febrianti is working on Constructing a Shared Identity; Engaging Youth in Creative Placemaking for Social Integration of Urban Refugees in Indonesia.

Read our full interview with Febrianti to find out about the issues and the people who fight tirelessly alongside it!

Can you tell us about yourself?

I am Febrianty Hasanah, people call me Feb or Febri. I’ve been working as a research assistant since July 2019, which is about Constructing a Shared Identity: Engaging Youth in Creative Placemaking for Social Integration of Urban Refugees in Indonesia. It is an action research project that aims to develop a method to support the reconstruction of shared identity between youth in refugees and host communities in Indonesia. Through this research, we held a Creative Placemaking Project in one of the refugee shelters located at the Mamajang Dalam district in Makassar city. There were 23 participants from both districts, the Mamajang Dalam and the Bontolebang district. We held a mini festival for showing the culture of our participants through drama, dance, crafting, and presented their ideas about the placemaking designs around the Mamajang Dalam and the Bontolebang district at the end of the project.

On the other hand, I am also a community facilitator volunteer that is facilitated by the Institute for Public Policy Study and under the supervision of IOM – UN Migration in Makassar. As a community facilitator, I am handling both youth and children’s classes based on their interests. We have a weekly discussion in the youth class about any topic. The children’s class is more challenging since every kid has their interest in a variety of ages.

Can you tell us about the big picture of the current situation in Makassar?

There are 18 shelters available for refugees and asylum seekers, and it added along with the number of refugees coming to Makassar (IOM, 2017). Most refugees are at a productive age, but they don’t have any rights to work. Indonesia didn’t being the signatory of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. They have limitations during their transit in Indonesia. On the other hand, the 2016 Presidential Decree on the Treatment of Refugees in Indonesia grants them some rights (VICE.com, February 2018). After the UNHCR decides a person is a refugee, the IOM manages their life in Indonesia until they can be resettled, providing them with a monthly allowance – $90 for an adult and $36 for a child (Al Jazeera, March 2019). Besides, IOM also supports the basic needs of the refugees and asylum seekers who live in Makassar, such as healthcare, education, and shelter.

Around 1,154 asylum seekers and refugees were living in Makassar, the highest number after Medan. The refugees and asylum seekers also had been living in Makassar from 2010 onwards as a hub for refugees and asylum seekers*.

In those awaiting years, what has the government or locals provide for the refugees?

In Makassar, the local government and IOM signed an MoU in September 2015 that served as a platform for coordination between the municipal government and IOM to address issues related to refugees and asylum seekers. Besides, Makassar was the first city in Indonesia to sign the MoU with IOM.


Through the MoU, the relevant services and work units (Satuan Kerja Perangkat Daerah) under the Makassar government, such as the local departments of education, healthcare, and social affairs are required to provide basic services to refugees and asylum seekers, supported by IOM funding*.


I understand that the situation is complicated for the governments and international organisations involved (Australia, Indonesia, IOM, UNHCR) and this puts the refugees in an extremely difficult living situation. Having you witnessing this in person, in your own words, can you explain to us and simplify the situation for those who aren’t aware?

Quoting from Neil Gaiman says, “We must help refugees simply because one day it could be us.”

It has changed my perspective on the refugees. They are far from home, family, and friends. They’re going out of their home country to find protection because of the issue that happened in their home country. Indonesia is only a transit country to wait its time to the destination country. Because of some regulations, they can’t directly go to the destination country. They never know that they will live in Makassar or Indonesia and may live longer than expected. Their living in Indonesia is funded by IOM, not our government.

As a society, how open and receptive do you think Makassar is as a sanctuary city?

I met some of the refugees at the Pete-Pete (public transportation) around 2014-2015. It was quite interesting to meet some people who were talking in a different language. That language was not English, but somehow similar to Arabian. I didn’t know what did they do in Makassar. I also had no idea about the refugees. The coming number of refugees became bigger as time goes on.

Currently, in some public spaces such as the Karebosi field, mall, and market, we can meet them interacting with local people. Some of the refugees that I know can speak Bahasa Indonesia and even talk in Makassar accent. Some of the children also go to public school. We’ve become more familiar with their presence, especially people who live around their shelters. Besides, the IOM and UNHCR also provide some activities that integrate with the locals.

Not having the right to work and make money have put these refugees in tough living conditions while waiting to be sent to their destination country. What is it like in a day for them?

Living in the country, was not the signatory of the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, is difficult situating for the refugees and asylum seekers who are in the productive age. Some rights for them can’t be accessed freely, for example, the right to work. Some refugees join in some activities which are organized by IOM and UNHCR. Besides, some of them also join local community activities outside of the IOM programs.

Indonesia is fairly new in hosting asylum seekers and refugees, do you think the country has done enough in its capacity?

Indonesia has been doing its best in handling refugees and asylum seekers. By issuing the Presidential Regulation (PR) 125/2016 on the Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seeker in Indonesia, as the legal instrument governing the treatment of refugees, Indonesia adjusts the integration in welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. It is not easy to handle more than thousands of people who transit and live in an unpredictable time inside the country.

In a more positive note, what is your hope and how do you think society as a whole could help in making a difference?

It may seem difficult for every stakeholder involved in this situation, but I hope there is a clear solution for their resettlement to the destination country. Helping them through social engagement with the locals is necessary to get more insights during their stay. It may help them develop resilience.

Thanks Feb for sharing with us!

If you have similar stories you’d love to share with us, shoot us an email at [email protected]

*Source: Missbach, A., Adiputera, Y., & Prabandari, A. (2018). Is Makassar a ‘sanctuary city’? Migration governance in Indonesia after the ‘local turn’. Austrian Journal of South-East Asian Studies, 11(2), 199-216.