Indonesia: Finding ways to release stress in immigration detention

18 July 2011

Aerobics class at one of Indonesia's detention centres in July 2011. (JRSAP)

Medan, 18 July, 2011 – After just one year, the aerobics sessions, just one of many activities of the JRS Indonesia Immigration Detention Centre Project, has grown to include nearly all detainees, IDC staff and JRS field workers.

“After we were given aerobics classes, fewer people are going to the doctor every week” said one detainee.

When it first began, every Friday JRS staff, immigration staff and other groups working would gather together for an aerobics class. JRS would be responsible for providing the instructors and the IDC would provide the space. After about a month of aerobics classes attendance of IDC staff decreased and JRS suggested that the detainees also be given the opportunity to join an aerobics class.

“During the aerobics classes we can shout as loud as we like. After shouting like this we feel less depressed and stressed. And our bodies become healthier,” another detained man said.

This has also been an interesting experience for the instructors, Vita and Monita. For them, coming into contact with the detainees was a completely new encounter.

“At first we felt awkward, nervous and wary of being stared at by all these men from other countries who we didn’t know at all. So in the beginning we would rush home straight after finishing the class. We were a bit scared, but also felt sorry for the detainees,” Monita said.

Vita and Monita had never learned about refugees and asylum seekers before. JRS provided them with as much information as possible about refugee issues, and conducted weekly reflections on their experiences and observations about the detainees.

“After getting to know them better, and communicating with them, we even started to hear their life stories, although sometimes we had to communicate with sign language. We’re happy to be able to give aerobics classes in the detention centre,” Monita said.

The aerobics classes have served as an opportunity for detainees and all the other IDC stakeholders to develop their understanding of each other. It is an expression of concern for ones health and for each other. Being able to live a healthy life is a basic right for all people, including refugees and asylum seekers in detention.

“Thank you JRS and IDC for giving us the opportunity to do these aerobics classes. Aerobics is helping us to maintain our physical health, as well as our mental health while waiting without knowing for how long we might have to live in detention,” said one detainee.

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