Academic journal article Refuge

Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees in Indonesia

Academic journal article Refuge

Living in Limbo: Iraqi Refugees in Indonesia

Article excerpt


Between 1999 and 2001 about 4,800 Iraqi refugees made their way to Australia. While the vast majority reached their destination, some never got that far, instead finding themselves stranded in Indonesia for up to 10 years. The author conducted interviews with Iraqi refugees in both Indonesia and Australia, from which a number of themes emerged. Central to these was the insecurity and uncertainty faced by participants over a protracted period with a marked difference when comparing the narratives of the participants settled in Australia with those living in a limbo situation in Indonesia. The former recalled the stresses of their journey and the associated feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression. In the case of the latter group, these feelings were ever present as their journey was not yet over.


C'est au nombre de 4800 que des refugies irakiens se sont installes en Australie entre 1999 et 2001. Alors que la majorite de ce nombre ont atteint leur destination, certains ne se sont jamais rendus et se sont retrouves bloques en Indonesie pendant une periode allant jusqu'a 10 ans. L'auteur a effectue des entrevues avec des refugies irakiens en Indonesie et en Australie, et un certain nombre de themes se sont degages. Un des themes centraux est l'insecurite et l'incertitude des refugies confrontes a un sejour prolonge, ainsi que le contraste marque entre les recits des refugies installes en Australie, et de ceux coinces en Indonesie. Alors que les refugies installes en Australie avaient enfin la possibilite de digerer le stress du voyage et les sentiments associes de peur, d'anxiete et de depression, ces derniers, bloques en Indonesie subissaient ces memes sentiments quotidiennement comme si leur voyage n'etait pas encore termine.


Between 1999 and 2001 an estimated 4,800 Iraqis transited Indonesia, leaving on smugglers' boats bound for Australia. However a few hundred did not make that final leg of their journey and found themselves living in a limbo-like situation for up to 10 years in Indonesia. Initially incarcerated in Indonesian immigration detention centres, they were later released to live in the community. However, without work rights, their day-to day-living arrangements were dependent upon agreements made between the Indonesian government, the Australian government, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), rendering the Iraqis largely powerless in making even the most basic decisions about their lives and futures.

In 2006 and 2007, as part of my doctoral research which examined the journeys of Iraqi refugees from the Middle East to Australia, I interviewed Iraqi refugees in both Australia and Indonesia. (1) The absence of research focused on refugee journeys from the Middle East across southeast Asia was an important consideration in deciding to use interview and analysis methods influenced by grounded theory. Grounded theory contrasts with other research methods which typically require the researcher to decide upon the main focus of the study and review the literature before gathering and analyzing data. This can be problematic when the study concerns a social phenomenon for which there is minimal literature available. Adopting a grounded theory approach means the central theme of the research is decided upon after conducting initial interviews during which the participants identify what they regard as important and significant. Analysis of early interviews then influences decisions by the researcher about the selection of further participants, the subjects canvassed in later interviews, and the overall direction of the research. (2)

For these reasons, grounded theory is particularly well-suited to studies such as mine where there has been little previous research or literature to draw on. Consistent with a grounded theory approach, rather than preparing detailed questions for participants to answer, I invited study participants to tell the story of their journey from Iraq in whatever way they chose. …

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