The unbearable fate of young refugees wishing to come to Australia

At the age of sixteen, I fled my native Afghanistan and arrived in Bogor, Indonesia. When I stepped out of the car and saw other refugees’ faces, I instantly felt a sense of hopelessness.

I met a young refugee who looked depressed, sitting at the balcony of his home. I tried to speak with him but he preferred to remain silent. I asked another refugee nearby if he was sick. He told me he had not been outside in more than six months, and that he had given up on life living as a result of being in limbo for so many years.

The man in question is a twenty-eight-year-old Hazara refugee. He has been waiting for UNHCR to find him a resettlement to a third country since 2014, when he fled Afghanistan amidst the Talibans’ campaign of targeted killings. He wanted to go to Australia, where he could access his human rights, feel secure, and work to achieve his aspirations. Unfortunately, he could not make it there.

In 2013 Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that the country would not resettle asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat. Instead, would turn the boats back to Indonesia. Another policy established that asylum seekers who registered with UNHCR after 1 July 2014 would never be resettled in Australia.

These measures have had a devastating effect on every refugee and asylum seeker living in Indonesia. Australia is the main resettlement country in the region, and many asylum seekers have their fathers, sisters or brothers living in Australia.

Three years after my arrival in Indonesia, I have yet to be recognised as a refugee. My family and I are still lingering as immigrants holding asylum seekers’ status. When I asked our UNHCR case officer why we have not been resettled to a third country, he answered that the resettlement process is too slow and that third countries do not want refugees. He gave us only one option: to wait.

There are countless young adults here suffering from severe depression. They have been here for more than six years with an unknown future.  Most of them have economic problems: under the Indonesian government’s rules, refugees are not allowed to work. UNHCR does not want to resettle young adults because they always said that they want to resettle families first. In spite of constantly thinking about the problem, refugees aren’t able to find solution, which leads inevitably to depression.

This is also my own situation. When I think about these horrific laws that resettlement countries and UNHCR have imposed on refugees, it fills me with despair about the future. Will I settle in a third country or I will remain stuck here forever? Will no-one hear the sound of our voices?

I try to keep busy. I go to the Learning centre. I read books, do some writing or go to the gym. Sometimes I play football, and I am taking classes for the GED, an American high school-diploma students can take online. Studying for this program in the Roshan learning centre gives me a purpose and a reason to wake up, the motivation to do something positive. I try to keep my mind fresh and I always say to myself that finally, one day I will get out of this hell with my family.

My friend Rahim Haidari is also from Afghanistan and has been here for more than five years. He likes weights, and when he inquired about his resettlement process with the UNHCR case officer he was told_: ‘You’re fit. I think you don’t have any kind of problems, you look healthy, go enjoy your life in Indonesia and don’t think about resettlement.’  For young adults this is shocking to hear. Resettlement isn’t our only problem. We can’t access higher education. We are not allowed to work and earn money for us or our families.

Refugees and asylum seekers are forced to live in streets near the UNHCR office in Jakarta or in local detention centres because they cannot support themselves or their families. In prison at least they get food and water. Unfortunately, UNHCR said they can’t accept any more refugees in detention centres.

As a direct result of these conditions, several young people have committed suicide. In 2018, a twenty-two-year-old Hazara refugee by the name of Hayat, took his own life at the Detention Centre in Medan, Sumatra. Another twenty-two-year-old afghan refugee, Asif Rezai, committed suicide in 2020 at the Makassar hostel of the International organisation for Migration (IOM). In the last six months, at least four men living in Indonesia without their families have taken their own lives as the mental health crisis is exacerbated by COVID-19.

Young people like Hayat should not have to commit suicide because of the current policies and Australia’s refusal to resettle us. The ban on the resettlement of asylum seekers who registered with UNHCR in Indonesia after 1 July 2014 must be reversed. All that refugees here want is their freedom. They want to make their way in this world, create a life for themselves.

No-one in this world should be a refugee. I want all people to be friends and close each other under one sky and to be acceptable to one another. I hope that one day all refugees have equal rights, freedom, and citizenship. Especially refugees here who are going through really hard and difficult days.

Can’t we have rights like any other human being?

Mujtaba Muji

Mujtaba Muji is a Hazara writer in Indonesia, where he has taken GED classes. He is a member of the Jakarta writers collective known as the archipelagoand contributes to publishing accounts of refugees searching for a safe and durable solution for young refugee men living alone in Indonesia.

More by Mujtaba Muji ›

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  1. I’m very sorry for the awful situation you and so many others are experiencing. I’m Australian, and there are many of us who want our government to change this heartless policy. Unfortunately the political party that made these decisions is not the party that many of us vote for.
    I have Hazara friends over there, and I admire the way they take every opportunity to learn new skills, and the support and encouragement that they give to others. I wish that they had the freedom and opportunity they deserve.
    Hazaras who migrated to Australia before the cut- off date have proved to be very good citizens. I hope that one day you will have freedom.

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