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Refugees educating other refugees

19 April 20160 comments

About 80 students studying at the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre (CRLC) do not wear uniform, as the local students do. They wear ordinary clothes because they are asylum seekers – mostly from Afghanistan.

The centre, set up by asylum seekers and refugees themselves in 2014, is located in the West Java town Cisarua, about 70km south of Jakarta, Indonesia.

It was established to provide education for their children.

Asylum seeker and refugee children in Indonesia, one of the key transit states for refugees waiting to be resettled in Australia and other countries, have no access to regular schooling during the long wait for resettlement, according to Sally Clarke and Carly Corpolov of Swinburne University of Technology.Refugee school in Indonesia

The school in Cisarua has received no official funding from any government body. It relies on donations from civil society in Indonesia and Australia to continue its work, explain Ms. Clarke and Ms. Copolov.

Fatima Karimi, a nine year old student at CRLC, has never forgotten the treasured memory of her first day at the centre. Karimi made two friends, which has since only escalted. “Since I came to the school I feel really good,” she wrote on the school website.

After school hours Karimi goes to friends’ houses to play, which “was something I was missing since we fled from our country,” Karimi said.

Established and managed by volunteer refugees from the community, the Refugee Learning Centre aims to provide refugee children with some level of education.

Started in a small house in August 2014, the centre relies on donations from civil society in Indonesia and Australia to continue its work.

Primarily, an Australian couple paid the rent, while the parents contributed $2.50 dollars each to pay for carpet, whiteboards and other teaching materials. Various women in the community volunteered to teach and in only a few days the school had 50 students.

The influx of eager new students was high, and the waiting list ever growing.

When the original lease ran out, the community found another larger space and the rent on that property was paid informally by a small group of Australians. Each month the parents of the school pay $1.50 for water, electricity and other minor expenses. Generous donors and supporters have paid for everything else.

There are approximately 3,000 refugees, mainly Hazara, living near Cisarua. Persecuted by the Taliban, they have sold everything they own and borrowed as much as they can to get to Indonesia.

With people-smuggling boats no longer going to Australia, they must hope to make it through the long and opaque United Nations resettlement process.

Indonesia is currently hosting more than 13,000 refugees and asylum seekers, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  It is conservatively estimated that more than 2,000 are unaccompanied minors.

As of September 2015, 7,666 asylum seekers are cumulatively registered with UNHCR Jakarta, forty-eight percent Afghanistan, eleven percent Myanmar, nine percent Somalia and seven percent Iraq.

The number of refugees registered with UNHCR Jakarta is 5,739, forty-six percent Afghanistan, twelve percent Myanmar, seven percent Palestine and seven percent Somalia, according to the UNHCR.

In Indonesia, UNHCR continues to provide mandate protection to refugees and asylum-seekers in a number of urban locations through registration, refugee status determination (RSD), documentation and processing for resettlement and repatriation where possible.

The detention of refugees and asylum-seekers as well as the widespread location of people of concern remain key protection challenges in Indonesia, particularly due to a growing number of children and detainees with specific needs.

To improve the protection environment, the UNHCR will support the capacity of local authorities. It will also assist those with specific protection needs, though funding shortfalls limit the number of people likely to benefit.

Indonesia is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 Protocol, nor does it have a national refugee status determination system.

As a result, the Government allow authority to the organisation, which has been working in Indonesia since 1979, to carry out its refugee protection mandate and to solve refugee problems in the country.

The average waiting period from registration to the first interview with the UNHCR ranges from 8 to 20 months, depending on the priority and complexity of the case.

Only once a person is found to be a refugee will the search for a resettlement place begin. People found to be refugees have no prospect of permanent resettlement in Indonesia.

During this time, asylum seekers and refugees are also denied the right to work. Asylum seekers are tolerated by the government but never accepted.

Based on UNHCR data per 31 August 2015, there were 2,338 identified as people with specific needs, 2,020 individual RSD interviews conducted, 2,169 individual RSD decisions finalized and 372 refugees resettled to third countries.

In 2014, a total of of 838 refugees were resettled to countries offering resettlement, including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and Germany.

In 2015, some 372 refugees have departed for resettlement, while 743 others have been submitted for consideration by states. Some 257 persons, all but a few being asylum‐seekers, returned to their countries of origin in 2014, and 233 persons returned in 2015.

In line with the UNHCR Global Education Strategy (2012‐2016), refugee children have access to primary and secondary education in Indonesian public schools. Non‐formal education and recreational activities are available for a limited number of children and youths. Non‐formal education and vocational training programs are implemented together with Community Empowerment and Self‐Reliance (CWS), refugee communities, and training providers.

According to UNHCR, in 2015 only 51 school‐age refugee children are enrolled in public schools, representing less than 10% enrolment in formal.

This is the result of several factors, including the limited geographical coverage of CWS assistance programs, inadequate sources of funding, and the lack of willingness on the part of parents to enrol their children in Indonesian schools.

The Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre is not officially registered and could be closed at any moment.

The CRLC has not only provided education to the students, but has also restored a sense of purpose and dignity to refugees who are living a vulnerable and precarious life in transit.

The students follow a classic curriculum that includes maths, English, art and science. They also learn about healthy living, mutual respect and equality.

In the evening, adults can participate in English classes. The school also started a local football league for men and women to keep people physically active, where refugees can participate in football matches with local Indonesians.

The school regularly hosts international visitors. All guests participate in the classrooms and stay with the teaching staff.

CRLC has 14 permanent teaching staff, comprised entirely of refugees and revolving volunteers from around the world. The Australian Education Union sends two teachers twice a year to support the curriculum.

The Centre does not only provide hope and encouragement for the students, but also for the volunteer teachers.

“When I am teaching the kids, I forget that we are living a difficult life as refugees,” wrote one of the young teachers on the school site.

A teacher who was filled a vacancy left by a leading teacher resettled in Australia stated, “being a refugee, I never thought that I will ever be able to be a teacher, to meet different people and gain invaluable experience”.

To learn more or to support the CRLC, go to:



Albertina Calemens
AMES Australia Staff writer