Illegal immigrants still unsure of their destiny
The Jakarta Post
Ahmad Junaidi and Theresia Sufa
2 March 2002

Many of the 1,200 illegal immigrants stranded in the country still face a dark fate with no certainty about their status and when they will be able to leave for their dream country.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), however, promised on Friday that they would help the migrants to return home or find a third country for them.

Half are Afghan people, 500 are Iraqis while the remaining 100 migrants are Pakistanis. There are also a few from Iran, Bangladesh and Africa.

IOM secretary-general Brunson McKinley said that 300 Afghan migrants had expressed a wish to return home.

"For those who want to return home, we will help them to return home as soon as possible," he told reporters in Jakarta.

The statement was made a day after the end of an international conference on illegal migrants and related international crimes in Nusa Dua, Bali, in which all participants agreed on a collective response to address the issue.

He said his organization was trying to seek financial help from Australia and European countries for the repatriation.

For migrants who refused to return home, IOM would cooperate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to find a third country, such as Scandinavian countries.

"But it would take some time to find the third countries," McKinley said.

Even though UNHCR has granted refugee status to a few hundred of the migrants, only a few could leave for a third country.

The illegal migrants -- stranded here on their way to Australia and other Western countries -- are currently staying in Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara, Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara, Bogor in West Java and Jakarta.

An official at the Bogor immigration office, SM Godam said on Friday that there were 427 illegal immigrants in Bogor. A total of 102 are accommodated at Wisma Palar while the others are staying in various hotels, guest houses and residents' homes in Cisarua and Megamendung.

This year, six people from Iraq and Afghanistan, who had stayed in Wisma Palar, were sent to a third country -- two to Finland and four to Switzerland.

Last year, a few people were sent to Germany and the United States, he added.

An Afghan family had earlier told The Jakarta Post that they were scheduled to leave for the United States late last year, but their travel was postponed indefinitely due to the World Trade Center bombings in New York in September.

Even though all of the foreigners are financially under the care of UNHCR and International Office of Migration, the Indonesian government sees them as a burden.

"We have to watch over them, which is not easy because of their large number and because they stay in different places," Godam said.

He said that in some cases, because of differences in culture, there were conflicts with locals.

Last year, some residents threatened to vandalize Wisma Palar after several foreigners brought several women -- believed to be sex workers -- into the house.

Bogor started to become a shelter for illegal immigrants in November 2000 following the detention of 168 boat people from Afghanistan and Iraq who were stranded in Ranca Buaya harbor near Garut, West Java. The foreigners were all sent to Wisma Palar. Many of them were later sent to the immigration quarantine in Jakarta.

Eighteen-year-old Hasan, who had been in Wisma Palar for six months, told the Post on Friday that he left his parents back in Sierra Leone because he could not stand the war.


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