The dramatic 18-hour rescue of a boat carrying more than 100 Rohingya refugees off the coast of Aceh in December 2021 served as yet another testament to Indonesia’s humanitarian spirit. Although Indonesia is a haven for thousands of refugees fleeing persecution, the country still lacks a legal framework on refugee empowerment, despite commitments it made to that effect at the Global Refugee Forum in 2019.

In 2021, the UN conducted several activities with civil society and private sector partners to boost refugee livelihoods, including facilitating apprenticeships and hosting entrepreneurship and other skills training. Through the Multi-Partner Trust Fund mechanism, the UN and partners in academia led training in 3D printing, digital marketing, web design, barista skills, and fashion apprenticeships. These programmes benefitted refugees directly, but they also demonstrate that refugee participation in income-generating activities has a positive social effect. With an appropriate legal framework in place, more private sector entities would engage with refugee communities, UN research has shown.

Migrant workers, as well as refugees, faced exceptional challenges due to COVID-19 in 2021. A UN project launched at the end of the year bolsters government efforts to address the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on returned migrant workers and their households. The project, which is continuing through 2022, incorporates a range of activities designed to boost economic empowerment, mitigate COVID-19 infection risk, and provide mental health and psychosocial support services at both the pre- departure and post-return stages of migration. Through the project, the UN is also engaged in strengthening COVID-19 mitigation measures at points of entry and border crossings used by migrant workers.

Refugees and migrant workers are far from the only communities that suffered disproportionate impacts during the pandemic. In 2021, the UN revamped its Indonesia Business and Disability Network (IBDN), a unique employer-led initiative that works to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in workplaces nationwide. The network grew its membership to 107 members by year’s end and engages members in promoting a human rights-based approach to disability.

The UN also partnered with Yarsi University to conduct a survey of 250 young workers on their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and their access to social protections. The survey found that the 15–24-year-old workers had low awareness and were at high-risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Meanwhile, fewer than half had access to health insurance or employment insurance. The survey indicated a need for improved Occupational Health and Safety training on HIV awareness and prevention and more comprehensive health insurance provisioning for young workers nationwide.

Broadly, the UN provided financial support and consulting to help Indonesia scale-up occupational health services for workers in the informal sector, including tools for screening health risks in workplaces. UN research contributed to new government guidelines on occupational health surveillance, and health and safety protections for healthcare workers, as well as a policy brief on strengthening TB control in workplaces. The updated guidelines for occupational health surveillance and the policy brief on TB controls at the workplace, combined with the new workplace health risk screening tools could benefit moret han 131 million people who work across the formal and informal sectors. Meanwhile, the scale-up of occupational health services for workers in the informal sector could benefit almost 78 million people. The guidelines on health protection for healthcare workers could benefit over 1.5 million people.