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Thailand: Heading home after 2,911 days in detention

Mariya returned home to Indonesia on March 25, 2013, after almost eight years in Bangkok's Suanphlu Immigration Detention Centre. (Jesuit Refugee Service Indonesia)
Wednesday, June 26, 2013

(Bangkok) June 26, 2013 — Nearly eight years ago, Mariya, a previously undocumented thirty-three year old Indonesian woman, was arrested and detained in southern Thailand after being found without a valid visa or passport. In March 2005, she was transferred to the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre, where Jesuit Refugee Service Thailand works to provide health care, legal aid, and return and release for detainees.

Due to JRS Thailand’s active legal and health related programming in the IDC, JRS used their leverage to conduct meetings  with the Indonesian embassy and government officials which culminated in Mariya's successful release and return home on the 14th of March 2013.

"After so many years of detention, she finally has a chance to return and begin a new life," said Father Bambang A. Sipayung S.J., Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Asia Pacific.

Mariya, who hails from a rural town, was unable to leave the IDC earlier because she did not possess a passport. Her family in Indonesia could not be traced, according to Indonesian embassy officials based in Bangkok.

"We first had to find out the reason she could not obtain a travel document and return to Indonesia then we planned how to address it," said Wanrob Wararasdr, IDC Project Director, Jesuit Refugee Service Thailand.  “It was a difficult case that required a lot of advocacy.  We're so happy we could help her to return home." 

Working together, Mariya's long stay in the IDC detention came to the attention of the JRS Thailand team in December 2012 when they discovered she was an EVI, or extremely vulnerable individual, due to her long residence in the center.

Since her family could not be traced, the JRS Thailand IDC team contacted the JRS Indonesia team in Bogor to arrange accommodation and social support for Mariya, should she be permitted to return. The local Indonesian House of Hope shelter — run by sisters in the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) — agreed to help Mariya.

"Once we had arrangements waiting for Mariya in Indonesia, we were able to write a letter to the Indonesian embassy to request that they provide travel documents," said Pauline Aaron, JRS Thailand's Country Director.

In February 2013, the JRS Thailand IDC team met with the Thai Lawyers' Council, who then contacted the Indonesian embassy to help Mariya to return to Indonesia.A success storyIn mid- March, the Indonesian embassy provided Mariya with a travel document, paid for the flight ticket home, and arranged with JRS Indonesia to meet her at the airport.

"The generous support of the Indonesian embassy made it possible for Mariya to go back home," said Aaron.Together with the FMM sisters, JRS Indonesia picked Mariya up from the airport in Jakarta and brought her to the House of Hope shelter, where she is staying and provided with accommodation, vocational training and psychosocial support.

"I told her when we arrived, you are safe now and the people living here are your new family,” recounted Lolita Tampubolon, the project coordinator of JRS Outreach to Urban Asylum Seekers in Cisarua. “She gave me a big hug and had a huge smile on her face."Mariya had wanted to go home for a long time.

In the IDC there are a number of "long- stay detainees"— those who have been there for more than two years — still seeking solutions.Long term detention puts people at high risk of mental illness due to stressful confinement and of physical illness from contagious diseases passed on from other detainees in close living quarters.

The JRS release program at IDC prioritizes helping the 'long stayers’ to find alternative solutions.

"As part of our goals for 2013, we are strengthening our services to help as many long stayers and vulnerable individuals to be released as possible," said Wararasdr. “This particular case shows us how important coordination and cooperation are."

Dana MacLean
JRS Asia Pacific Regional Communications Officer


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