First walk with me: on our assumptions about refugees

Asif Rahimi is a Hazara refugee currently in detention in Indonesia in an Australian-funded centre. As Nicole Valentini reports over at GlobalVoices:

In Indonesia, there are 13 immigration detention centers with a total capacity of 1,300 detainees. These detention centers are usually unsanitary, overcrowded and prone to flooding in the rainy season. Since January 17, 2018 the refugees at the detention center in Balikpapan have been protesting against these conditions.

The refurbishing and enlarging the detention facilities was funded by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), using funds received from several Australian government agencies. Australian NGOs have denounced this “Indonesian Solution”, arguing that their government is paying Jakarta “hundreds of millions of dollars to detain and warehouse asylum seekers. Indonesian law permits immigrants to be detained for up to 10 years without judicial review.

 This important intervention came to us via the Writing through Fences project.



Most people judge others, seeing connecting factors relating to birthplace and cultures. Most of the world sees other people from other places through a lens, regardless of [whose] camera it is that hunts the occasions and events.

I am a Hazara man from Afghanistan. I am a refugee. I continue to experience a most miserable life that has been imposed on me.

When you look at me, you see my miseries, my pleading eyes with messy hair and a lack of contemporary knowledge. While you are focusing on me your mind subconsciously travels to a war zone, imagining a shuffling picture of wild, ferocious murderers with freakish appearances (Taliban). You most likely try to find something in me to match their features. I have experienced as much, enough to understand this: that a majority of people think the same.

Trying to find something in common between me and those ferocious savages makes you doubt and forget about those who are terrorised, murdered, massacred and victimised. These kinds of thoughts make you fearful of my existence in your community, rather than thinking about reasons [to keep us safe, to continue] our existence. Your mind forces you to judge falsely because of the first interaction you just had.

First, you change the word which describes my journey. You use ‘coming’ instead of ‘fleeing’. You will guess tens of reasons about my ‘coming’ and nothing about reasons for my ‘fleeing’ because you have already chosen the ‘coming’ for my journey. In this case, you will fear losing your jobs, your cultures, overcrowding, safety of your community, safety of your children, and many other fears that come with these negative views.

You have just judged me by looking to my appearance, identity and my birthplace. But unfortunately you have forgotten the most famous and precious word: ‘individuals’. You have forgotten to ask me who I am and why I am here. Instead you compared me with [other encounters] and some terrifying groups.

Do you really know me? Does my appearance give you all details on which to judge me? Does my birthplace give you vivid evidence to judge me and my behaviour? Have you ever tried to talk to me about my encounters, my life, my journey, my destination, my knowledge?

Not at all, though it is very simple. Yet you judged me and never thought that you might have been wrong. If you doubt your judgement then ‘what to do’ are the key words.

I [ask] you to come to me. Let’s walk back where all these miseries first began.

I am a Hazara. Once we were the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. That was before the genocide of my ethnic group. [In the uprisings of 1888–1893, armies] massacred 62 per cent of our people because of our race and physical appearances. Our properties were overtaken, our communities were overthrown, our people faced extermination, our heads were used as bricks and rocks for building minarets, women were raped and their breasts were cut off, our people were taken as slaves and sold as goods in markets, and the government used to take taxes from selling us. Many of our people were forced to leave the country for Pakistan, Iran and India.

It continues still today, although they have made some small changes in their strategies and tactics. They made it systematic. They forced us to leave our most tropical and fertile lands and flee to mountainous areas and hide us in natural caves where the soldiers could not see us due to lack of transportation ways. They are now persecuting us, threatening us, kidnapping us, murdering us systematically to conceal themselves behind unknown, and known, terrorist groups.

We are now the third largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Our [needs] have been limited to schools and access to some cities. We wish to have access to cities, civilisations, knowledge, basic necessities, but all our [paths] are controlled by Taliban and the government have closed their eyes and become deaf.

Do you want to accompany me a few steps more?

Okay then.

We – none of us have understood what dreams meant, none of us have had childhood, none of us have understood what life is, none of us have had wishes, because we have all been struggling to find some place to breathe, to stay alive, to fill our empty stomachs.

This struggling has created a culture in our community where we live closely together under one ceiling, eating meals together, lest some of us can’t find a piece of bread. We were taught to respect our culture – elders, women, guests – and we were taught how to be a good host. We were not taught how to shoot a gun, how to kill, how to behead. Why? Because we have lost so many people. We hate machine guns, and we don’t want to lose more people. Again I say: we have lost 62 per cent of our whole population.

We are the ones who have lost the best ones in our lives because we are Hazaras. Our families and relatives have been pulled apart all across the world and most likely we will not even meet each other one more time.

Do you really know me?

Walk with me, then talk about me.

– Asif Rahimi


Image: Balikpapan detention center – photo by Asif Rahimi (via GlobalVoices)

Mohammad Asif Rahimi

Mohammad Asif Rahimi, a 28-year-old from Afghanistan, belongs to the Hazara community, the third largest and most oppressed ethnicity in the world. Asif graduated from high school and studied political science in Kabul city. He speaks four languages. Due to security concerns and persecution, he had to leave Afghanistan and seek asylum in Indonesia through UNHCR. He is currently living in Balikpapan detention centre.

He has been in detention and deprived of all basic rights since late 2014.

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  1. Rahimi fills a gap in our understanding and points to the self securing reasons why we haven’t looked further into the motivations of refugees in our region.

  2. A heart wrenching story. I hope that your captors will see sense, be humane and release you from purgatory.
    I’m shaken and appalled by this

  3. Am sorry to read this also am same situation to you since inwas born till today
    I hope time will be answerable

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