Indonesia offers repatriation for ‘newfound’ citizens in the Philippines

Mick Basa
Indonesian Sangirs in Mindanao are now given a choice to adopt Indonesian citizenship and relocate to Sulawesi

CITIZENSHIP. Hundreds of persons of Indonesian descent on Balut Island in the Philippines await for the release of their birth certificates on November 16, 2017. Photo by Mick Basa/Rappler

DAVAO OCCIDENTAL, Philippines – Indonesia has changed now, said one man who introduced himself as a representative of the country. If any of you wants to go home, he said, “silahkan (please).”

On Thursday, November 16, hundreds of residents on the island of Balut here were given birth certificates that, for the first time in their lives, decided which country they are citizens of. Indonesian, their birth certificates read.

“Those who want to go home, we will arrange a one-way trip,” Berlian Napitulu, Indonesian Consul General to the Philippines, addressed some 60 people who were later handed over legal documents that ended their decades of legal limbo.

It was an effort brought up by both the Philippines and Indonesia for many years, in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The recipients of the effort were Indonesian Sangirs in Mindanao, which the UNHCR found in 2016. There were at least 8,745 of them living in regions 11 and 12 – Davao Region and Soccsksargen.

The UNHCR and the two countries have been careful not to call them “stateless” and instead call them “persons of Indonesian descent (PID).” In 2012, the Philippines came up with a procedure that determined whether a person is stateless or not. Moreover, in Department of Justice Circular Order 058, refugees and stateless people cannot be deported.

Out of the 8,745, at least 2,975 individuals or 34% have had their citizenship status settled, according to the UNHCR in the Philippines. Of those settled, some 1,937 were determined to be Indonesians.

And as Indonesians, said Napitulu, these people will eventually be given Indonesian passports so that, back in their “home country,” authorities won’t question their citizenship.

It’s a next step to be taken by both parties who were assisted by UNHCR through its 10-year global campaign that aims to end statelessness.

For now, the question of citizenship for these people is slowly being addressed with birth certificates given to thousands of them, 

Miriam Palma, UNHCR field associate in the Philippines, said to possess a birth certifficate means they now have access to basic services in the Philippines.

Napitulu said those who decide to return to Indonesia are given several choices of places to repatriate to: Sangihe, Talaud, Tahuna, Bitung, and Manado, all located in Sulawesi. –


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