JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Hundreds of Afghan refugees living in Indonesia, mostly members of the Hazara ethnic minority, held a rally on Tuesday decrying the Taliban’s takeover of their country and calling for resettlement in third countries.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol, and the government doesn’t allow asylum seekers to work or have access to schools and public hospitals.
The protesters took to the streets outside the U.N. refugee agency’s office in the capital, Jakarta, with many saying they’re extremely worried about their families back home. Most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims, despised by Sunni Muslim radicals and discriminated against by many in the Sunni majority country.
“Everyone is scared due to the current situation and are desperately trying to escape,” said 28-year-old protester Hakmat Ziraki.
Ziraki said his relatives, unable to bear years of living in limbo without jobs, eventually returned to Afghanistan. On Friday, he received a text message from his sister, saying she was distraught and that everyone in their village had sent their young daughters out of the country.
Banners at Tuesday’s rally read “Afghanistan is not safe” and “Resettle Afghan refugees from Indonesia.”
“Waiting for more than eight years without resettlement has been absolutely terrible,” Ziraki said.
Officials with the U.N. refugee agency in Jakarta could not immediately be reached for comment.
The protesters dispersed after a few hours, as police threatened to arrest them for violating a health state of emergency in Jakarta, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus.
Afghans accounted for a little more than half the 13,400 refugees in Indonesia, according to U.N. figures from April.
Many asylum seekers fled to Indonesia as a jumping-off point to reach Australia by boat. But since 2013, the Australian government has sent the often barely seaworthy vessels back to Indonesian waters.