The UNHCR and its Local Implementing Partners: How to Expand the Protection Space for Refugees in a Non-Protective Host Country?

Antje Missbach

2Monash University, Clayton, Australia

The UNHCR began its operations in Indonesia in 1979, when Vietnamese refugees began to arrive by boat. Although Indonesia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, the UNHCR was allowed to conduct refugee status determinations, arrange resettlements for recognised refugees and materially assisted some of the most vulnerable refugees while in waiting. UNHCR and its partners organisations work together to ensure the psychosocial needs of refugees and others of concern are met through counselling, home visits, and facilitating self-help group activities. The UNHCR could not have succeeded without the commitment of its local implementing partners. On the one hand, compared to other civil society organisations the UNHCR implementing partners enjoy a certain privileged position in regard of funding and access. On the other hand, the local implementing partners face certain restrictions and limitations in their daily activities as they have to follow directions and UNHCR principles strictly in order to not jeopardise the toleration of UNHCR’s mission in the host country. This paper is interested in the perspectives of a number of selected implementing partners and how they perceive the strengths and weaknesses of their collaboration with the UNHCR and their service delivery to asylum seekers and refugees, who often mistake the UNHCR for a quasi-state entity. Shedding light on these privileged relationships will help to evaluate the role of civil society in refugee protection in Indonesia more clearly.



The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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