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JAKARTA, Indonesia – While people in Jakarta returned to their hometowns for the end of Ramadan and to celebrate Idul Fitri, others had nowhere to go – their family and friends thousands of miles away.
During lebaran, most Muslim families gather and enjoy reunions like those around the world who celebrate the end of Islam’s holiest month. But for Muslim refugees in Jakarta, there were no fesrtivities.
Ali Ahmad Jafari, a 19-year-old Afghan who was born in Pakistan, is one of 13,500 refugees and asylum seekers currently living in Indonesia stranded in transit.
“Especially at this moment, I extremely miss my family,” Ahmad told Rappler. He added that his parents passed away, and his two brothers and sister now live in a Hazara community in Quetta, in Pakistan.
When Ahmad was in Quetta, he celebrated lebaran by vistiing his friends and going to relatives’ houses. They shared food, traditional snacks and drinks together. It was a happy time.
“Lebaran is just a normal day for us now, it means nothing to me,” Ahmad said, adding he would like walk around Jakarta with his Hazara friend here in Jakarta, and visit some tourist spots.
“There is no place I can call home.”
Ahmad doesn’t know much about Afghanistan. His family escaped to Pakistan as refugees, where he was born.
But there, the Hazaras, who are Shia Muslims, also suffer persecution. Their faith has made them targets, as Sunni Islamist insurgencies rage in southern Asia and radical Sunnis consider them heretics.
One of Ahmad’s relatives was killed while travelling to Iran, making it clear to them it was deeply dangerous to live there.
“It is too dangerous for us, you could be shot on the street,” Ahmad explained. He added that bombs coud explode anytime.
“I don’t know why they want to kill us? They are Muslims too.”
According to Pakistani media, the Hazara community in Quetta has been the target of bomb blasts, killings and other hate crimes for several years now. By some estimates, over 1,400 Hazaras have been killed since 1999.
Ahmad’s other cousin, who fled to Australia in 2008 or 2009, has already been granted refugee status by Australian authorities. He said he is the one who supports him financially.
“He sends $150 to me every month,” Ahmad said, but said he knows his cousin is tired of paying his living expenses.
Following his cousin’s step, in 2014, at the age of 17, Ahmad’s aunt paid for his journey from Pakistan to Southeast Asia. From Pakistan, he flew to Cambodia, and to Thailand, then to Malaysia.
“My bag was stolen by a smuggler when I arrived in Cambodia,” Ahmad said, adding he only had a shirt and pants which he was wearing.
He arrived in Indonesia by boat, a journey that took him about a month. He arrived in Jakarta on January 29, 2014 and has been in the country for 30 months.
Indonesia has not yet signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, so the country does not have the authority to determine the status of asylum seekers and must wait for verification by the The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.
Pakistani security officials inspects the site of a suicide bomb attack that targeted a senior politician and a head of Islamic political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, in Quetta, Pakistan, 23 October 2014. Jamal Tarakai/EPA
Stateless people like Ahmad are unable to work, go to school, or get married.
“I am very bored. I want to go to school,” Ahmad told Rappler, adding that he envied Indonesian college students.
Ahmad studied in a refugee school in Pakistan, where he learned to speak English fluently.
After arriving in Jakarta for 6 months, UNHCR identified him as a refugee, and 5 months later, he got his refugee identity card.
“They told me to wait, and I’ve been waiting for 30 months,” Ahmad said.
He has had to renew his identity card every year, but except for an interview with UNHCR, he has never met any other officials.
When asked about his dreams, Ahmad said he wanted be an engineer as a child, but now he has no dreams being older – only hoping his family is safe.
“I want to go to a county where I can live safely, no matter where it is,” Ahmad said.
He also said he would love to stay in Indonesia since he is safe here.
In 2016, UNHCR has resettled 322 refugees who had been living in Indonesia: 147 in Australia, 4 in Canada and 171 in the United States. – Rappler.com