STRANDED IN TRANSIT, REFUGEES TAKE THE INITIATIVE
Six years ago I was forced to flee my home country Iran with my family. We left our country to save our lives, but since then we have been trapped in Indonesia, unable to live a normal life.
In Indonesia, refugees might seem like a far off problem, something from another corner of the globe. But there are currently about 14,000 refugees living in Indonesia. Refugees cannot be resettled in Indonesia, so we remain stuck in transit for years as more and more countries close doors in our faces.
Fleeing armed conflict, persecution, war and peril. Those are the devastating situations refugees and asylum seekers endure. Often crossing national borders in the hope of seeking safety in nearby countries and becoming recognised as refugees with access to assistance from states and aid organisations.
In Indonesia, most refugees are fleeing war and persecution in Afghanistan, Somalia or Pakistan. Here they have to survive without access to basic services such as rights to education, healthcare, property ownership, and any activities that require an identification card. One third of the entire refugee population live without any assistance, and often the living conditions in available shelters are far from decent.
Since Indonesia is not a signatory country to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees and asylum seekers are not allowed to work. As a result, most end up on the streets with little to do. Living on the streets with a lack of access to showers and basic care leaves refugees in Indonesia abandoned and vulnerable to disease and violence.
Nevertheless, refugee communities are taking initiative and are fighting to help one another. In August 2017 we started the Refugees and Asylum Seekers Information Centre (RAIC), a refugee-managed volunteer network focused on easing the burden for people fleeing persecution. RAIC aims to connect refugees with the support and services they need, providing information, legal advice, resources and humanitarian aids such as food and medical care.
We refugees know the pain and trauma of being forced to leave our homes, of being on the run without knowing where we might end up, and if we will ever find safety or have a home again. We know first hand the difficulties that refugees face. As a “by refugees for refugees organisation,” we know the value of supporting our own community, and gaining a sense of purpose even when we are shut out from work, education, and basic human rights.
Amongst the busyness and hustle of Jakarta, many refugees and asylum seekers sleep on the street, unable to afford a roof over their heads. Not knowing where else to go, they camp in groups outside detention centres and the UNHCR building. RAIC does what it can to support refugees who have nothing, delivering care packages filled with soap, shampoo, tissues, snacks, nappies and sanitary items.
RAIC works with numerous supporters and collaborators to do this and is able to meet the immediate needs of more than 100 of the most vulnerable refugee families every month. The care packages have had an immediate impact, preventing and alleviating skin issues that many refugees have had to put up with, as a result of living in the tropics without access to basic hygiene items.
Children and new mothers are affected the most. Poor diet affects the milk supply of breastfeeding mothers. So we are delivering basic nutritional food to refugee families. In each distribution, we provide enough to last each person for one week. What we provide is not just a hand out, it is a confidence booster package that also empowers an individual and enables them to think further and take steps to find solutions.
We also started monthly eye checkup events for refugees 7 months ago, to deal with eye infections as a result of their poor housing and living situations. In this program we check 50 individuals every month and provide glasses and medication.
A psychotherapy program is another of our key programs. Approximately 80% of refugees in Indonesia meet the diagnostic criteria for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety. Only 9% of refugees currently have access to psychosocial support with trained mental health professionals.
After UNCHR announced that most refugees will not be resettled for at least 25 years, rates of depression and hopelessness rapidly increased, we now see around 2 cases of attempted suicide per month. This is the result of long indefinite waits, no access to rights, and resettlement being a political rather than humanitarian act by third countries.
In response RAIC drafted a self-guided therapeutic workbook that is accessible to refugees, and has proven to be effective.
Mozhgan Moarefizadeh is a human rights advocate, public speaker and legally trained refugee law paralegal. She is the co-founder of RAIC and a refugee recognised under the 1951 Refugee Convention, stranded in a transit country without any rights. Please see RAIC’s website, www.raicindonesia.org, for more information.