Australia asylum seekers find peace and some joy in Jakarta

Dozens of young men started their Saturday morning by cleaning the area surrounding their home in Kebon Baru Village, South Jakarta, jabbering in an unintelligible language. Smiling and laughing, some of them swept the floor and porch of the mosque while others picked trash from sewers.

They are Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar, seeking asylum in Australia.

Hasan, 17, ran away from Myanmar because the government and majority Buddhist populous had infringed the Rohingya’s rights to a proper life, including education.

The Rohingya are Muslims of Bangladeshi descent who have lived in a desolated area in the North Rakhine state of Myanmar for centuries, but the Myanmar government doesn’t recognize them as citizens. They face persecutions from the Buddhist majority who do not want them their.

Hasan had to pay a lot of money, which his family gave him, to pass through security checks in order to run away.

 “In order to just leave North Rakhine state, we (Rohingya people) have to pay a lot of money to security guards. If we hadn’t had any money, they would have punished us harshly,” said the refugee.

He said he risked his life to cross the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia to Indonesia and registered himself with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia.

 “I want freedom and I want education,” Hasan, who has been in Jakarta for a year, said, adding that English and computers were the first subjects that he wanted to learn.

Mitra Suryono, a public information officer with the UNHCR, said that the organization tried to help asylum seekers get refugee status, so they could move to a third country, such as the United States, Australia and Canada.

“Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not allow refugees to settle permanently, so they need to apply for resettlement in a third country,” Mitra said.

While asylum seekers await resettlement permission from a third country, the UNHCR cooperates with the Church World Service (CWS) to support their life.

The CWS, an international non-governmental organization concerned with refugees, provides shelter and gives money to asylum seekers.

Indah Putri of the CWS, said that her organization helped the asylum seekers arrange daily activities, including education, sports and social work.

Asylum seekers live in two shelters in the Kebon Baru. Hasan stays in one of the shelters together with 42 others mostly from Myanmar, while the other shelter is occupied by 22 asylum seekers mostly from Afghanistan.

 Ahmad, from Afghanistan has been living in Jakarta for two years. He has registered with the UNHCR and is now waiting for his resettlement application to be approved by the Australian government.

“I never regret my past because right now I want to focus on my future. I hope I can start a new life in Australia,” he said.

Ahmad, who loves writing poetry and stories, said that he was very grateful because the UNHCR had helped him and his friends.

“I like the Indonesian people because they are very friendly,” he said. “My friends and I realize that we have responsibilities because the people here have saved our lives. That’s why we are very enthusiastic to do social work.”

Hasan, whose parents are both dead, said he was happy in Jakarta, because the people treated him better than in Myanmar.

 “I love football and sometimes we play with our Indonesian neighbors,” he said. “If possible after getting asylum, I will take my brother and sister to a third country.”

According to the UNHCR, the first half of this year saw 1,823 refugees and 6,761 asylum seekers register in Indonesia, while the number of resettlement acceptances last year reached 359. (ian)

This article was published in The Jakarta Post on June 20, 2013. Here’s the link:


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