Fewer Iranians are coming to Indonesia because of Jakarta's decision to stop issuing them visas on arrival (VOA), a top Indonesian official said.
The ending of the VOA policy for Iranian citizens aims to combat drug smuggling and reduce the number of asylum seekers transiting through Indonesia to Australia, Minister of Law and Human Rights Amir Syamsuddin told Khabar Southeast Asia.
"Our data found that the policy has had a significant impact on decreasing the number of Iranians coming to Indonesia," Amir said.
The policy change was approved in July and implemented in September, which saw 1,608 Iranian arrivals in Indonesia. That number plummeted to 296 in December, he said.
Prior to the change, Iranians could obtain visas upon landing in Indonesia. Now, they must apply in advance for travel permits at Indonesian embassies or consulates.
Malaysia followed suit in October by ending its VOA policy for Iranian visitors.
A fruitless journey
As of December, the Jakarta office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered 7,110 asylum seekers from various countries. Forty percent came from Afghanistan, while 16% and 10% were from Iran and Burma, respectively, according to UNHCR.
Some of them are confined to a refugee camp at Cisarua, southeast of Bogor.
"Many of them were arrested while crossing Indonesian borders to Australia. So they are stuck in a refugee camp here in Cisarua, but we have to send them back home – especially those without documentation," said Lilik Bambang, head of the immigration office in Bogor.
"Cisarua is already crowded," he added.
One of the Iranians at Cisarua is Sahar (not his real name), who said he paid an agent in Iran US $16,000 to smuggle him to Australia.
"We already sold everything we have in Iran to get a new life where we feel safer. I have been here more than two years with uncertainty. We do not have [a] job, no family. I don't know what I am supposed to do anymore," Sahar said.
When asked about his main reasons for leaving Iran, Sahar cited "poverty, conflicts, and other personal issues".
Paths ahead for asylum seekers
There are two ways to solve the plight of asylum seekers in Indonesia, said Ridha Saleh, former deputy chief of the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM): voluntary repatriation to the home country or settlement in a third country.
"We need to help them. Often they do not get good treatment in the refugee camp. We need to offer them several options so they can decide what is best for them," Ridha said in a phone interview.