Indonesia’s Hazara refugees: between a painful past and an uncertain future
By Steven Handoko
Jakarta, Sep 13 (EFE).- Living in an Indonesian refugee camp since 2013, dozens of Afghans and Pakistanis of the persecuted Muslim Hazara ethnic minority group watch the years pass, waiting for resettlement to a third country.
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has exacerbated unease and fear of further repression among these primarily Shia refugees from the region.
Rajab Ali fled his home city of Quetta in Pakistan’s Balochistan province in 2013. He was a teenager, had recently finished secondary school and planned to become a doctor to treat his parents’ weak knees, a common condition in the mountainous region.
Now he’s 26. He’s not a doctor, he isn’t allowed to work, and he lives in a refugee camp in Jakarta, thousands of miles from home.
“This is not living. This is Hell. We have no future,” Ali says in an interview with Efe, as he explains how his father sold a car and family land to pay $15,000 to have him smuggled out of Pakistan when persecution of the Hazaras spiked.
Hidden inside a car to the airport, smugglers took him to Dubai, India and Singapore before reaching Indonesia.
Like Ali, many other Hazaras, persecuted by armed groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban, live dispersed in refugee camps away from home.
During the first three to four years in Indonesia he lived in Bogor with other refugees. Later, he slept in front of the Immigration office, then in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) building. Finally, he and others were moved two years ago into a former military building in West Jakarta’s Kalideres district.
Inside are rooms separated by blue tarpaulins and on the second floor are dozens of individual tents, home to Hazara refugees.
“UNHCR, 7.5 years is too long. Don’t tell us we don’t deserve to be resettled,” a hand-written banner on the side of the building reads.
Last month, hundreds of Hazara refugees gathered outside the UNHCR office in Kebon Sirih in Central Jakarta to protest the handling of their resettlement processes. Many refugees here think the agency isn’t doing enough.
UNHCR Indonesia told Efe that “refugees live their lives in limbo here, hoping to be resettled to a third country. However, with more than 82 million people displaced around the world, resettlement has become a very limited opportunity that can only be enjoyed by less than 1 percent of the total refugee population globally.”
The agency says it continues “to work with the government of Indonesia and partners to improve refugees and asylum seeker opportunities (…) while advocating for longer term solutions.”
Behind the main military building where the refugees stay is a smaller one that also houses tents, and next to it are portable toilets and washrooms. A small gazebo-like structure is used as a classroom. Outside people chat and play a board game. Children run around and ride their bicycles.
Among them is 10-year-old Afghan, Hadiya. She wears a black headscarf and speaks about her feelings toward the Taliban.
“The Taliban don’t like seeing people [praying]. They shoot people. Women must wear the veil to cover everything but their eyes,” Hadiya says in perfect Indonesian.
Hadiya can’t go to school because of her refugee status, but attends online classes with an Indonesian teacher using her father’s mobile phone. She wants to be a journalist.
Ali, meanwhile, sleeps with seven others in a room on the second floor. One refugee estimates there are still 170 people living there. Each day is a psychological struggle for them as they deal both with their own problems and those of their loved ones abroad.
“Refugees from Afghanistan are very understandably concerned about the situation and their family members in Afghanistan, which, combined with uncertainly about long term solutions can have a negative impact on their well-being and situation in their host country,” UNHCR said.