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Constructing a Shared Identity: Engaging Youth in Creative Placemaking for Social Integration of Urban Refugees in Indonesia

Researcher :
Sources of Funding :
    Sasakawa Peace Foundation
Cluster :


The influx of refugees is becoming a global issue. One in every 113 people is now either an asylum seeker, internally displaced person, or a refugee escaping conflict, violence or human rights violations (UNHCR, 2015). Indonesia, a non-signatory country to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, is also experiencing a rising number of refugees from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and others transiting in its urban areas (UNHCR Indonesia, 2016). In average, refugees spend more than three years in the country while waiting for their settlement application outcome – repatriated to a third country or returned to their origin country. However, the extended waiting period lacks structured programs to bridge the interaction between refugees and locals.

In theory, a low social integration may trigger depression in individuals, and this is even more prominent in young refugees. Adolescence is one of the most crucial stages of human development, when one begins to view himself as a relevant part of society (Erikson, 1968). During this stage, adolescents are increasingly sensitive, reckless, self-conscious, and prone to depression (Hall, 1904). Being in limbo as refugees without a clear path to the future increases these risks. Moreover, they suffer disruption to their identity building due to the uncertainty of transit period in Indonesia. Meanwhile, young people of the host communities also face challenges of their changing neighborhoods with the arrival of refugees and they may view the refugees as a threat to their society.

The social integration of refugees, specifically young refugees, is understudied. This study addresses the social integration, which include interaction, communication, acceptance, acknowledgement, and cooperation issues, between young refugees and young people in the host communities in Indonesia. We view this research as an opportunity to develop a new shared identity between the youth in refugees and host communities. Both communities are currently exposed by foreign cultures that causes minimum interaction and may leads to mutual incomprehension to each community’s social condition. The disconnectedness can lead to disharmony that may escalate into resentment and conflict. Hence, positive interaction between the two youth communities is expected to develop a more tolerant and cohesive future community.

The research project aims to develop a method for social integration and support the reconstruction of shared identity between youth in refugees and host communities in Indonesia. By taking advantage of the common values as youth and diversity in both communities, the research is expected to contribute to the formation of new values in the future. It intends to explore the following research questions:

  • What are the common values that serve as foundation to build a shared identity?
  • How to support young people in both communities to project themselves as a responsible citizen of the world with a vision of peaceful co-existence?
  • How have the perception and attitudes of young people of the two communities change after being exposed with opportunities provided by the research project?
The research project will observe perception, attitude, and interaction between the youth of refugee/asylum seeker towards the youth of host communities and vice versa. For that purpose, an action research approach is used, by involving selected youth from both communities as the research subjects (RS). As an action research, the central purpose is change – it uses flexible design based on self-reflection throughout the process to improve the practice. The research subjects, who act both as as research participants and as research partners, will work together on an action research that leads to the design a Creative Placemaking Project (CPP) in their neighborhood.

Throughout the research, the RS and the surrounding communities are expected to learn from the experience of the co-existence and co-living between the refugees with host communities. Instead of highlighting differences leading to potential new conflicts between refugees and host communities, this action research celebrates common values, builds connection to the place they live in, as well as builds shared identity amongst both communities. The common values, connectedness, shared identity and the changes made by the research subject for their communities are the main component that is targeted throughout this action research. Hence, we expect the research to influence ways of thinking of the youth in both communities and contribute to the exploration of new values that lead to a more diverse and tolerant society in the future.