Confronting Refugee Abuse in Indonesia’s Detention Centers

“Both adults and children described guards kicking, punching and slapping them or other detainees”
In February last year, guards at the Pontianak Immigration Detention Center in West Kalimantan beat Taqi Naroye, an Afghan asylum-seeker, so badly that he died.
A new Human Rights Watch report finds that this was not an isolated instance — rather, the report documents numerous instances of guards abusing detainees, including children, in immigration facilities across Indonesia. Yet Indonesia provides little or no accountability for those abuses, and has not done nearly enough to clean up its detention facilities.

Each year, a growing number of asylum-seekers — primarily from Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Burma (Myanmar) — enter Indonesia looking for safer lives here or passage onward to Australia. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 9,226 refugees and asylum-seekers were in Indonesia at the end of February, a 2,000 percent increase since 2008. Indonesian law permits immigration detention for up to 10 years without judicial review. Thousands of people are detained each year, in overcrowded, sordid facilities that are all too often violent.
The testimony we gathered suggests that the violence occurs frequently. We interviewed 102 migrants and asylum seekers, of whom 82 were or had been detained. They gave credible, detailed testimony of 34 incidents in which guards or police physically abused detainees. The abuse was not limited to Pontianak IDC, where Naroye was killed. Migrants reported violence at each of the other major facilities, including Tanjung Pinang (Riau Islands), Kalideres (Jakarta), and Belawan (North Sumatra) IDCs, as well as in smaller IDCs, police stations, and informal holding cells at immigration offices.
Both adults and children described guards kicking, punching, and slapping them or other detainees. Some said guards tied up or gagged detainees, beat them with sticks, burned them with cigarettes, and administered electric shocks.
Unaccompanied migrant children — traveling alone, without parents or other guardians to protect them — are among those who reported abuse. Arif was just 15 when he arrived in Indonesia, having fled Afghanistan by himself.
Rather than offer him refuge, Indonesia detained him at Balikpapan IDC, where guards beat him for trying to escape. “That day I was beaten up very roughly,” he said. “There were eight or nine people beating me, most were guards and there was one person from the outside. They hurt my shoulder, my ear, my back.”
A number of people had lasting injuries. Sher, an Afghan refugee, was beaten repeatedly over a three day period for trying to escape from Kalideres IDC. He said: “Three shifts of guards, they would each come with sticks and knives and hit us. … My face was black and blue. My kidney was damaged for a month — it was bad — from the beating.”
When we interviewed Daoud, an Afghan refugee, in August 2012, his injuries from a 2010 beating at Belawan IDC in North Sumatra had not healed. “I can’t hear in my right ear because of the beating,” he said. “They slapped my ear so hard.”
Hundreds of those held in immigration detention are children — and they are routinely exposed to violence, or, like Arif, beaten themselves.
Safia, an Afghan mother held at Pekanbaru IDC with her husband and three daughters, then 10, 6, and 4 years old, related an incident in late 2010 when guards forced her and her family to watch as they beat two adults: “They beat them like animals. The blood came from their nose, their face, all parts of their bodies. … My children were very scared.”
Nasir, Safia’s husband, tried to intervene with the guards. “I pleaded, ‘Don’t beat them in front of my kids.’ ” But even when Nasir was eventually allowed to take the girls back to their cell, Safia said she knew her young daughters could still hear the beating. “The men were crying very loudly.”
Indonesia has taken some small steps to respond to Naroye’s death. For instance, the guards involved in his beating no longer work for the immigration service and were put on trial. But our report shows that those steps are nowhere near enough. Indonesia urgently needs a nationwide review of physical abuse in detention.
The government needs to put in place procedures to train immigration staff and provide an effective and safe complaint mechanism for detainees. The Directorate General of Immigration needs to issue published regulations establishing consequences for government workers who violate detainees’ rights. Without new procedures growing numbers of asylum-seekers will continue to receive a poor welcome in Indonesia.
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