Refugees, local communities commemorate World Refugee Day in a show of solidarity and caring

It was 10.30 a.m. and the sun shone brightly over Jakarta. Dozens of Jakartans of all ages were sitting  in front of a traditional house of Betawi, the city’s native ethnic group, which is nestled in a densely populated area. They came together to commemorate  World Refugee Day (WRD), which falls on 20 June. Among the audience were members of local youth organization Child Forum and young refugees, who live near the kampong.

Young Indonesians take part in a WRD commemoration by performing a traditional Betawi dance in Jakarta. @UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

WRD is commemorated annually to recognize the strength, courage and perseverance of millions of refugees. UNHCR launched a special campaign — #WithRefugees–   since June 2016 to  encourage everyone, including governments and host communities  to work together to address the global refugee crisis in the spirit of  sharing responsibility for helping refugees in need.

The event at  Betawi kampong included multicultural performances from the local community and the refugees. Two Indonesian girls took the stage to perform a Betawi traditional dance, followed by a martial arts display from a group of youngsters at the Child Forum. Two young Afghan refugees performed their country’s traditional dance.

Afghan refugees perform a traditional dance in front of local audience during a WRD commemoration in Jakarta. @UNHCR/T. Kurniasari

Child Forum head, Reza, encouraged the local community to welcome refugees. “They [refugees] lost their way since they were forced to flee their home countries and came to other countries to get protection as they are struggling to survive,” Reza said. “So let’s stay away from acts of racism,” he added.

Reza and other Child Forum members also invited young refugees to join them in their upcoming events. “We can play futsal. They are also welcome if they want to take part in  Indonesian Independence Day activities on 17 August,” Reza went on. During Independence Day, communities across the country usually organize a series of events, including traditional games and sports competitions.

A community leader, Farid, encouraged locals to help refugees. “Please, Ibu-Ibu [ladies] lend your hands [to the refugees]. For the refugees, please stop by [our kampong] if you need anything. You will be invited if we have any events,” he said.

Attendees also pledged to work together to make the world better for children by putting their handprints on a white board. Guests later indulged in a tasty feast when the refugees served traditional food from their countries, such as biryani rice, which they themselves had made. “That looks good. It’s like nasi kebuli [Indonesian spiced rice],” some Indonesian women said.

“The kids were excited to cook for today’s event. They have been preparing the dishes all night,” said Hernowo Berhmans from Save the Children Indonesia, one of UNHCR’s partners.

A refugee shows his handprint as part of solidarity movement to support children. @UNHCR/Thomas Vargas

Refugees elsewhere also commemorated WRD in various ways. Refugee women and girls, for instance, enjoyed participating in make-up and fashion show contests organized by UNHCR’s partner Church World Service. Ten women and girls displayed their skills as make-up artists and models in the event as other refugees cheered them on.

A representative of the local community, Ismaniasita, known as Is, attended the event and served as one of the judges. “When these refugee women came in the neighborhood, some locals asked me about their [refugees’] presence. I explained to people here about the refugees’ situations, saying that they need protection. Now, people here welcome them,” said Is.

“At the same time, I also ask the refugees to always smile when they meet people in the neighbourhood. Smiling is part of Indonesian culture and it’s important to give good impression to people here,” she added.

Another refugee, Raisa, was thankful to be able to be part of the make-up contest. “We feel happy and we feel that we are not alone here. We are really thankful for having this kind of event. We wish to have makeup class and tailoring/sewing class that can be useful for us,” Raisa said.

A community official, Irdar, who attended WRD commemoration organized in another area in Jakarta welcomed the refugees to  the neighbourhood and wished that they could keep their positive aspiration and hope so that one day the refugees could get together with their families in a peaceful environment.

The refugees expressed their gratitude towards the local hospitality that has welcomed them.  This has encouraged them  to learn more about Indonesian culture and Bahasa Indonesia.

UNHCR Indonesia Representative Thomas Vargas (in blue vest) shakes hands with a community leader in Jakarta, expressing his gratitude to local community for welcoming refugees in the neighbourhood. @UNHCR/A.F. Siregar

*Refugee names have been changed for protection reasons.