The Politics of Civil Society In Indonesia: Where Do Refugees Fit?

Max Walden

1University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Indonesia’s transition to democracy began with the fall of military-backed dictator Suharto in 1998. Political scientists have emphasised the essential nature of a vibrant civil society and human rights protection as the basis of a healthily functioning democracy. Indeed, Indonesia has a diverse and influential civil society sector, segments of which continue to defend human rights. The influential Indonesian social scientist Bob Hadiwinata presents a useful spectrum of civil society work in Indonesia: from ‘welfare’, to ‘development’, to ‘empowerment’.  While organisations that work with refugees and asylum seekers are only a small part of broader civil society in Indonesia, they arguably play an even more important role for their beneficiaries – who are non-citizens with limited rights. This paper will adopt Hadiwinata’s framework and present a typology of the organisations working with forced migrants in Indonesia, analysing what this reveals about contemporary political space and human rights in that national context.


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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