UNHCR’s cultural sensitization initiative promotes harmony in local communities
Every week, Mustafa trains at the local public pool in Makassar, South Sulawesi, with his Indonesian friend, Alamsyah.
A refugee who fled violence and persecution in his native land nearly 4 years ago, Mustafa used to swim every day in the local pool near his house in Afghanistan to keep himself healthy and fit. In Indonesia, he met Alamsyah, an Indonesian neighbor and nationally recognized athlete who regularly participates in swimming competitions. To help his new friend adapt to the local community, Alamsyah introduced Mustafa to fellow swimmers at the local swimming club in Makassar.
“I’m happy to make Indonesian friends here – they give me energy and help me adjust to life here in Makassar. I also feel blessed to be able to swim in Indonesia, as it relieves stress and gives me strength,” Mustafa conveyed to UNHCR staff.
To promote harmony and peaceful coexistence between refugees, asylum-seekers, and local communities in Indonesia, UNHCR regularly conducts cultural sensitization sessions, capacity building trainings, and awareness raising initiatives for persons of concern to UNHCR and members of the host community, including authorities at the local and national levels. Several of these sessions are conducted for refugees held in immigration detention centers (IDC) in preparation for release and transfer to local community housing. These cultural sensitization sessions are held all over the archipelago throughout the year.
“I’m happy to make Indonesian friends here – they give me energy and help me adjust to life here in Makassar. I also feel blessed to be able to swim in Indonesia, as it relieves stress and gives me strength”
The initiative has been well-received by refugees, asylum-seekers, and government officials alike. For example, in collaboration with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and immigration authorities in North Sulawesi, UNHCR held a cultural sensitization session in 2016 on Indonesian law and customs for refugees and asylum seekers in the immigration detention center in Manado. Nearly 154 refugees and asylum seekers attended the session, which prepared refugees for release from the detention center into community housing in Manado. The session also aimed to increase understanding among refugees and asylum seekers of Indonesian customs, culture, and regulations to prevent accidental violations of the law.
Mr. Hasrullah, the head of the immigration detention center in Manado, welcomed the initiative as a positive step forward for building strong relations between refugees and host communities. “[Cultural sensitization] is beneficial for refugees and asylum seekers not only in Manado, but also in other locations in Indonesia. The [sensitization] initiatives allow foreigners to increase their knowledge of the laws and regulations in Indonesia, so that they can continue to respect Indonesian rules. This information is important for coexistence in local communities, as refugees and asylum seekers [need to] prepare to live among communities when they are released from detention,” emphasized Mr. Hasrullah.
Mustafa himself is living proof of the effectiveness of the cultural sensitization sessions. Prior to living in community housing in Makassar, Mustafa stayed in the Makassar immigration detention center for a year, where he participated in a similar cultural sensitization session. “I found [the sensitization session] to be very good and useful. It helped me understand what I should and should not do when living among local Indonesians. I’m glad I was able to learn such valuable information,” he stressed. UNHCR’s initiative provides refugees like Mustafa with the cultural competency and courage to meet Indonesians and build relationships with local communities.
“I found [the sensitization session] to be very good and useful. It helped me understand what I should and should not do when living among local Indonesians. I’m glad I was able to learn such valuable information”
Due to the success of UNHCR’s cultural sensitization initiative and subsequent improved relations between refugees, asylum seekers, and local Indonesians, local government authorities intend to hold a series of cultural sensitization sessions throughout 2017 in Makassar, Kupang, Manado, Pekanbaru, and Surabaya, where large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers reside.
Indonesia currently hosts over 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers from a variety of countries, including Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Iraq, and Myanmar. UNHCR prioritizes creating harmonious environments for persons of concern to the organization and the host community to promote the wellbeing of refugees, asylum seekers, and local community members in Indonesia.