Limbo struggles;  what happened to the refugees’ resettlement in Indonesia

The pictures of four men with stitched mouths in Limbo Indonesia shocked me and everyone else. There’s a reason the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has been around as long as it has. Actually, these people went on a hunger strike in protest of the awful situation of refugees in Indonesia. I was following the Twitter campaign hashtag;  #End10yearsinlimbo a measurable discussion with media coverage. the hashtag #End10yearsinlimbo tweeted thousandths times, my colleague Basir encouraged me to write about the current situation of refugees in Indonesia.  

I could easily meet Niaz Farahmand and Bibi Rahima Farhangdost who have been living in Bogor, Indonesia since 2014. First, I met Niaz online in a striking tent. He was very tiny and his eyes looked tired. He barely smiled. He and other refugees were on strike from 13 November 2021, to protest against the UNHCR negligence in their asylum process and settlement to the third country. “According to the latest information by UNHCR, there are about 14000 refugees in Indonesia of which 7500 are Afghans. mostly from Hazara ethnicity, Said Niaz.

Niaz Farahmand in Strike tent 2021 vs Niaz Farahmand 2014 new arrived in Indonesia.

Niaz entered Indonesia illegally, like many other asylum seekers, then he registered his asylum request to UNHCR and got his refugee card after about two years. “They have accepted us as refugees, they know that we cannot be deported back to Afghanistan. Afghanistan was not and is no longer safe for us. On the other hand, we have been recently told that maybe we wait forever, and maybe no third countries accept us. That is why 14 people killed themselves, these are people who were in danger and escaped to Indonesia to save their lives. But they killed themselves after many years of waiting for an unknown future. This is our main problem here, we ask UNHCR to take our cases seriously and do something to #End10yearsinlimbo.” Added Niaz Farahmand.

Bibi Rahima is from Ghazni, she was a teacher and nurse in his town. Her father died recently and her mother and her three siblings are living in the worst ever situation in Afghanistan. When she left her hometown, as the supporter of her family, she hoped to be able to work and provide a better life for her family, but now after eight years, she lost her father, has never met her family, and has never been able to support her family. It took a while before I could see her smile either. “You are so strong and so beautiful Rahima” I told her. “Oh, do you think I am, I do not feel that” she answered.

Bibi Rahima Farhangdost’s photo in 2014 vs 2021

How is the living situation in Bogor city?

Unfortunately, Indonesia has not signed the 1951 Geneva convention and is not responsible for the destiny and situation of refugees and asylum seekers. Indonesian people are kind. We are thankful but the government does not do a single help and does not care about us. We were living in a very awful situation in detention centers before 2017 and were allowed to go out just for one hour per day. Now it is better, we are living in accommodations and can go out during the day. But we are not allowed to work, to study, children cannot go to schools”. continues Niaz

They keep the water to extract the oil from it.

Thousands of refugees from Afghanistan, most of them from the Hazara ethnic minority, who have long been persecuted by the Taliban, have lived in Indonesia for years as they await resettlement in third countries such as Canada or Australia.

What kind of support do you receive from UNHCR?

They have provided us with shelter but it is the oldest accommodation with basic facilities, water is not clean and we share the kitchen. The adults receive about 80 dollars per month and children get 40 dollars for food, clothes, and hygiene. It is not enough to just help us not to die. To buy clothes for an eight years girl, one needs to pay at least 40 dollars, while one-kilo apple costs four dollars, two-liter oil is also four dollars, and also one kilo of rice. We almost pay 70 per month for food and the rest should be used to buy shampoo and clothes. Medicine is also free but UNHCR has contracts with governmental hospitals which have the worst facilities. The list of illnesses that can be cured for free is limited.” Said Bibi Rahima.

Every two single adults share a small accommodation but families live in the same size of accommodation with children.

How is the daily life of women, do they experience domestic violence?

“Both men and women are under pressure but mostly women. Men used to work in Afghanistan. Now they are not allowed to work and they do not have economic power. This makes them nervous and angry. Both women and men are at home and this causes a lot of discussions and domestic violence against women. Women cannot leave their children here, because there is no supportive government and laws, so they are forced to bear the situation and keep silent while men do physical and mental violence. A woman can hardly survive here, especially if she has a child. I recall a woman with a nine years old daughter. They were living alone, people harassed her child in the street around the house, then they went to her door. It was hard to live, they were lucky and could change their accommodation. I hope in the next place they are at peace.“ continued Bibi Rahima Farhangdost.

How is the life of children?

Most of the children have a serious level of depression. They just eat and live. They do not have any kind of children’s rights based on the children’s rights convention. Children are not allowed to go to school. A group of activists decided to build camp schools and I am one of the teachers. I teach them English and Indonesian. Children confess a high level of tension and domestic violence at home. Parents are fighting, heating, and abusing each other and children. Children are living in a small area in each accommodation with their parents no matter how many children a family has. Each accommodation is shared between two single persons. As no one is allowed to travel from the city that they are registered to other cities, and as families are very poor there are no entertainment possibilities for children.

Children are not allowed to go to school, and as the financial support is very low they have no entertainment either.

What about sexual violence?

“We have never heard about this among refugees in this city, or maybe no one claimed it. By the way, this is a very sensitive discussion. I do not want to talk about this. Once a person talked about boys and women who sell their bodies for money in Jakarta and people criticized them a lot. I am sorry and I do not want to talk about this.” Told Bibi Rahima.

Are there HBTQ family members among these refugees? “No. I do not think so or at least I have not heard about that.” Answered Niaz

What are your last words and message?

“I ask the UNHCR to consider our situation and do not close its eyes on us. We are accepted as refugees by UNHCR and based on the Geneva 1951 convention, have the right to be protected by a third country. There were some people who after many years of waiting asked this organization to deport them back but UNHCR says that Afghanistan is not safe. From 2018 until now just 4 people from our accommodation (about 140 persons) have been resettled in a third country. Why is this process going very slow? Please #Endto10yearsinlimbo and take us out of this country. ” Told Niaz.

Niaz has a refugee card issued by UNHCR

“A woman, alone, who can’t speak a foreign language, is very brave to live in limbo for many years. When we get sick, we can’t trust anyone to ask for help. To bring clean water for us. The process is very slow and there is no hope for the future. We live a black life (undocumented) with no rights, not enough food, clean water, education, work nothing. We all are in prisons and even worse because those who are sentenced to prison know when they will be free, but we have no idea about our future. I beg the international community to pay attention to us and do not let us die here, please #End10yearsinlimbo.” Ended Bibi Rahima Farghangdost.

The main request of protesters is the resettelment to the third country fast

Their pretest is even more compelling in conjunction with the other single most resonant message we heard from them: It isn’t just that we need to defend these rights despite the ongoing crisis; these rights are essential refugee’s efforts to tackle it and survive under the circumstances.

Many refugees cannot go home because of continued conflict, wars, and persecution. Many also live in perilous situations or have specific needs that cannot be addressed in the country where they have sought protection. In such circumstances, UNHCR helps resettle refugees to a third country.

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an asylum country to another State that has agreed to admit them and ultimately grant them permanent residence.

What went wrong here that the resettlement cases take so long?

Indefinite waiting in limbo Indonesia drives refugees to take their own lives, on last December, two Hazara refugees, Muhammad Ikram and Adul Hussian, hanged themselves in Jabodetabek, while thirty-year-old Qasem Musa is thought to have killed himself at the Immigration detention in Medan on October 26. This is a political decision between countries to slow down the process of resettlement. 

At the end of November, 22-year-old Afghan refugee, Ahmad Shah, set himself on fire in the city of Medan in North Sumatra to protest against his lack of resettlement status, having traveled to Indonesia in 2016.

The burden of being in limbo is increasing for immigrants as clarity about obtaining resettlement is also becoming increasingly difficult, the refugees cannot cope with the current indefinite waiting. 

According to the UNHCR, refugees may be resettled depending on the availability of resettlement places provided by resettlement countries, admission criteria of the country of resettlement, and refugees’ particular needs. 

What if the Indonesian government may use the current crisis like European countries,   a consequence of an attitude of vested interests, and the need for quick political wins like Europe. 

Read more: 

Reuters Asia

South China Post

Written by: Nargis Rezai, Interview by Amazon Rezai, Edit: Basir Seerat

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