Providing homes for young refugees in Jakarta

Leslie Wilson, Andi Juanda and Dino Satria | October 27, 2016

CWS staff were among those in Jakarta for the opening of the new CWS shelter for unaccompanied and separated refugee minors. Among those pictured are Leslie Wilson (middle), Andi Juanda (far right) and Dino Satria (third from left). Photo: CWS

CWS staff were among those in Jakarta for the opening of a new group home for unaccompanied and separated refugees. Among those pictured are Leslie Wilson (middle), Andi Juanda (far right) and Dino Satria (third from left). Michael Koeniger, Indonesia Country Representative with CWS, is second from the right. Photo: CWS

The CWS Protecting Urban Refugees through Empowerment – or PURE – program in Jakarta is expanding! In partnership with the UNHCR, the Department of State Bureau on Population, Refugees and Migration and the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, we are opening new group homes for unaccompanied or separated refugee children. Below, three CWS staff members reflect on the true impact of this program.

Leslie Wilson, Asia Regional Coordinator

In Jakarta this week, I am privileged to have visited the new home of 35 teenage boys who are new asylum seekers and refugees from Afghanistan and Somalia. These young men have found their way to Indonesia by varied and difficult routes from their homelands. Mostly, they are seeking safety from the threat of harm; they have left their families on their own or their parents have sent them away from danger.

As the news reminds us daily, an unprecedented 65.3 million people have been forced from their homes worldwide. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. The 200-plus unaccompanied and separated children who CWS is able to support in Jakarta are, clearly, a miniscule percentage of these. Yet, each one of these boys and girls has a unique story and modest hopes for a safe and secure future. While posing for serial selfies, which the boys were eager to take with me, during our informal official opening of our newest group home, I talked a bit to a few of them in more depth, and I was inspired by their hopefulness – despite the odds they clearly know they face.

When I left this newest group home, which I am so grateful the U.S. government is generously funding, I was renewed in my commitment to draw attention to the circumstance that the 500-plus refugees and asylum seekers – adults, teens and children supported by the CWS PURE+ program – face. While we are privileged even as we are greatly challenged to support them in Jakarta, the CWS team led by Andi Juanda and Dino Satria is certainly inspirational in its commitment, day in and day out, to them. In working hard to ensure safety and dignity for dozens of vulnerable families in Jakarta, and as many unaccompanied children as possible, they make me feel proud, and honored, to work with them all!

Andi Juanda, PURE Project Manager

It’s a three hour flight from Bangkok to Jakarta, which gave me time to reflect on the Alternatives to Immigration Detention for Children in Southeast Asia meeting I had just joined and also on the call I had just received from the UN Refugee Agency’s Jakarta office colleague telling me that there were six homeless unaccompanied asylum-seeking children camped outside their office. The boys were in their mid-teens and from Afghanistan. I learned that they had arrived in Indonesia three weeks ago.

When I got home and went immediately to pick them up, I saw that they looked quite unwell. With CWS group homes for unaccompanied children at full capacity, we managed to arrange for three months in a Government-run shelter – to start.

The encounter left me with many questions, though. Where would they go next? Would they be homeless again and left to scrape by? Would they end up being detained as illegal migrants because they had no visas and identity documents? I was worried for them.


The reason I had been in Bangkok was to share CWS experience with implementing community-based alternatives to detention for unaccompanied and separated children in Indonesia with members of the International Detention Coalition http://idcoalition.org/, the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, http://aprrn.info/ and, particularly, colleagues from Save the Children and Terre des Hommes. Together, from across region, we shared our experience in advocating and campaigning for and implementing alternatives to immigration detention for children in Southeast Asia.

Back in Jakarta, CWS hosts 80 unaccompanied and seperated children in group homes. Each of these youngsters have left their homes and are alone in Indonesia, which has welcomed them even though the country is not a signatory to The 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations. Further, government regulations state that children should not be held in detention when there is an alternative place for them to go, like a group home.

However, since CWS group homes are always at full capacity, and with more than 600 unaccompanied and separated children in Indonesia, there are many more children in need of protection. CWS and UNHCR have therefore developed alternative care arrangements such as foster care with a refugee family and semi-independent living, where several older teens share rooms in a boarding house. These innovations allowed CWS to support 120-plus UASC in August alone. I believe we have been successful because we work side by side with UNHCR and local government staff, including immigration authorities, as well as our Indonesian neighbors and community leaders. This is an achievement of which we are quite proud and that is acknowledged by our colleagues.

As for the six boys temporarily housed in a government shelter, luckily for them CWS, in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is preparing to open three new group homes with funding and other support from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and from the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection. These new homes will provide safety and security for an additional 120 children, including 75 boys now in detention, waiting for a better alternative, and the six new arrivals I just met and was thrilled to be able to help.

Dino Satria, Indonesia Program Director

Recently I was pleased to speak about our Jakarta refugee protection program during a consultation hosted by the UN Refugee Agency in Geneva. It was a great opportunity for me to share our successes with a global network of civil society groups, and also to exchange views, share ideas and raise issues of concern for refugees and asylum seekers, especially for youth, who were the central theme of this year’s consultation.

CWS and UNHCR have been partners in Indonesia since 2008, and so I was enthused to present details about our program supporting 120 unaccompanied and separated refugee children 250 other refugees and asylum seekers with people from around the world.

The three-day consultation, which opened with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees’ remarks about our collective mandate to ensure that ‘no one is left behind,’ included many different workshops where we examined refugee and asylum seekers’ vulnerabilities, threats and challenges and also their resilience abilities, opportunities and solutions.

In the Asia regional sessions the lack of access to formal and non-formal education for young refugees and asylum seekers was discussed because of the additional barriers and vulnerabilities it creates. This is something we face in our work in Indonesia, where access to education is difficult, not least because the language of instruction in Bahasa Indonesia. One of the recommendations from this session was that UNHCR should work more in partnership with local governments and help increase access to education for young refugees and asylum seekers – something I was pleased to tell others that CWS is already working on in Jakarta.

For the panel discussion, “Where We Live: Safe Asylum Space for Youth” I spoke about the CWS group homes for UASC as an alternative to detention. I explained how immigration detention centers in Indonesia are overcrowded, lack basic facilities and are particularly dangerous for children. I further explained the CWS Indonesia model of alternatives to detention and our three approaches to UASC care and protection: group homes, foster care and semi-independent living.

I also had a chance to hear others talk about the complexities and challenges of their work – many of which we also face in Indonesia, especially the need to invest in alternative-to-detention living arrangements, which CWS is fortunate to be able to do now.

Before leaving Geneva, I was honored to meet a young man from Australia, Arif Hazara, who gave the closing address. He said that although they are smart, resourceful and capable, refugee and asylum-seeking youth cannot make it alone; and he invited UNHCR and NGO representatives to dedicate resources to young refugees and to prioritize their rights and needs. When I had a chance to talk to Arif I learned that he had lived in Indonesia as a refugee between 2010 and 2012, and said he knew CWS well. Some of his friends lived in our group homes, where he often visited them. Arif said he really appreciated CWS support for refugees and that many of his friends would not have survived without us.

I do believe that CWS is really making a difference in young people’s lives, and Arif’s affirmation made me even more proud that expanding our protection programs and adding group homes will make us even more able to have an even bigger impact.