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New films describe experiences of asylum seekers in Indonesia

24 August 20180 comments

Two new compelling and insightful films highlight the resilience, hopes, dreams and experiences of the 14,000 asylum seekers who call Indonesia home.

Launched at an event at Jakarta’s Goethe Institute recently, the films pointed the lens at these forgotten people and offered a deeper insight into their lives in Indonesia.

One film titled ‘Respite’ directed by Adriano’s Outjie tells the story of several refugees currently stranded in Makassar, South Sulawesi, which has the second-largest refugee population in Indonesia after Medan, North Sumatra.

Filmed in 2017 to 2018, Outjie focuses his lens on various lives as they adapt to their fate and their conditions, made worse by inhumane treatment by authorities from the Makassar Immigration Office, and the severe restrictions they have on their lives.

Refugees are not allowed to work or open businesses legally in Indonesia as the country is not legally bound to accept refugees as they are not signatories of the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention.

The refugees come from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Syria and Myanmar. In the film, they talk about how they are given a strict curfew and are usually severely punished when they break it.

But refugees’ interactions with the locals are friendly. The film depicts refugees mixing with the local community, playing sport or tending pigeons. The people of Makassar themselves are portrayed as welcoming to the refugees and do express genuine sympathy.

However, the film includes some heartbreaking scenes of refugees. In one scene, an Afghan refugee named Yama reads some news on his phone about a 22-year-old Afghan man, who apparently came from the same village as he did, who committed suicide in the Makassar refugee detention centre after simply giving up hope.

The second film, titled Performing Out of Limbo, was made by a collective of anthropology students and researchers from the University of Indonesia.

It tells the story of two Ethiopian refugees who fled their country fearing ethnic persecution against their tribe, the Oromo, which has been carried out by Ethiopia’s central government in recent years.

The two men, Hamza and Allamudin “Alex”, fled their country separately after being targeted by the authorities when they were accused of organizing and participating in peaceful Oromo-led protests against the government’s constant taking of their ancestral lands.

As the pair reached Indonesia and applied for refugee status at the local UNHCR office in Jakarta, they connected with each other and became friends, sharing a love for making music.

The film shows their musical journey and how through their art built connections into the local community.

See the films here:




Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist