JAKARTA, KOMPAS.com — Thousands of refugees in Indonesia are finding themselves shut out of public services including travel and shopping because of a bureaucratic glitch that prevents them from proving they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Indonesia is a transit country for 13,175 refugees, more than half of whom are from Afghanistan. Unlike some countries where refugees are kept in camps, refugees in Indonesia can roam freely and use public facilities. Most live around the Jakarta greater metropolitan area.
In 2020, the country launched PeduliLindungi, a digital Covid-19 contact-tracing app giving vaccinated residents access to public facilities and mass transit. The program, however, requires people to upload their 16-digit government-issued civil registry number before they are vaccinated. Only citizens, permanent residents, and foreigners with work visas have the number; refugees – more than 56 percent of whom have been vaccinated – do not.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, with the support of Indonesian state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma, developed a system to generate a different registration number to allow refugees to register in the app. However, the Jakarta Health Agency, which oversees the public plan, does not have the authority to generate the new numbers. The issue is now under discussion among the Health and Foreign ministries and the UNHCR.
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Therefore, the refugees who received their vaccinations at local health clinics under the public vaccination plan did not receive an electronic vaccine certificate that would otherwise be uploaded to the PeduliLindungi app. They also have no proof of vaccination other than a handwritten slip.
Somali refugee Ahmed Sheikh described the problem he faced when stopped by security guards asking for proof of vaccination at public transportation facilities or shopping malls.
“When we show them a handwritten slip issued by health workers at the public health clinic, they don’t believe it. …. It’s hard to explain to them when they don’t speak English too,” he told VOA.
Dr. Ngabila Salama, the head of the Jakarta Health Agency acknowledged the administrative hurdle, telling VOA the agency is limited by legal uncertainty; it does not have the legal authority to generate a useable civil registration number.
“We need to be accountable for every vaccine that we give out. It’s a shame if we cannot register all the vaccine recipients onto the Peduli Lindungi app. Imagine if we give out over 5,000 vaccines to refugees that are not registered on the Peduli Lindungi app. How can we be accountable for every vaccine, when we must undergo an audit by the Financial Audit Board? They may think we wasted a lot of the vaccines,” she said.
Some refugees are considering postponing getting their first vaccinations or second doses until this administrative problem is solved.