Iraqi refugee family traverses half the globe seeking a new home
News Stories, 27 December 2006
CISARUA, Indonesia, December 27 (UNHCR) – Adrift in Indonesia at the age of 36, Iraqi Hassan Jaber El Badri has been a refugee since he was an infant. After a circuitous, dangerous trip at the hands of people smugglers, Hassan and his family are finally safe, but frustrated that four years here in West Java have apparently brought them no closer to a permanent home.
"Most of our friends have left," laments Hana, Hassan's wife. "They are now living happily in Canada, Australia, Norway and other countries, while we remain here, living in uncertainty and continue to wait. When will it be our turn to live in a place that we can call home?"
In an effort to find them a permanent home where they will be safe, UNHCR has asked several countries to consider accepting Hassan's family for resettlement.
"While Indonesia is very generous in allowing asylum seekers and refugees to stay here temporarily, the country does not so far permit integration," said Robert Ashe, UNHCR's regional representative in Jakarta. "For that reason, we submit cases like Hassan's family to third countries for resettlement."
What is clear is that, apart from the difficult security situation in his homeland, Hassan would find it very difficult to go back to Iraq. At the age of two, Hassan was taken by his mother and brother to Iran, to join his father, who had fled the oppressive Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
After growing up in exile, marrying another exiled Iraqi in Iran and having three daughters, Hassan tired of his illegal existence. "There was no sense of normality in Iran," he recalled. "We could not work and our children could not go to school."
"We wanted to go to Australia to start a new and better life there like my friend, who was already living in Australia," Hassan said.
In October 2001, Hassan and his family left Iran, flew to Malaysia and took a boat to Medan, Indonesia, from where they had been told they could catch a smuggler's boat to Australia. In a Medan hotel, he handed over US$1,400 for passage for his wife and himself; the three girls travelled free. At the hotel, he was astonished to find hundreds of other families from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan – all seeking a better life in Australia.
Packed into a boat with hundreds of other people, Hassan and his family sailed for seven days before their vessel was intercepted by the Australian authorities and turned back to Indonesia.
But worse was to come. "The ship on which we sailed back to Indonesia crashed into coral reefs surrounding a remote island in Indonesia," he said. "The three people representing the broker who were supposed to accompany us suddenly just vanished into thin air."
"We almost died of starvation because there was no food, and all my daughters were sick," added Hana.
The passengers walked along the beach until they met some local people, who brought them to a mosque where they were allowed to stay for the night. Later, the International Organization for Migration put them up in a hotel in Lombok, where they were interviewed by the UN refugee agency a year later.
Now that they have refugee status, UNHCR is looking for a resettlement country to accept them. Their dream country, Australia, has rejected them once, but is now taking a second look.
As a humanitarian gesture, "Australia has recently indicated a willingness to review refugee cases such as Hassan's," said UNHCR's Ashe. "He still has the possibility of being accepted by Australia, but there are no guarantees. The decision is entirely up to the Australian government."
In the meantime, the family is finding life in limbo difficult. Hassan's eldest daughter often weeps and asks her parents:"When can we live like other people who have better lives, who can gather together with their families?"
Hassan tries to comfort his children. "Of course it is difficult to be a refugee, but I am sure that, one day, one of the countries will eventually accept us." And they are trying to make the best of their life in Indonesia, socialising with Indonesian friends and speaking Bahasa Indonesia fluently.
Their daughters, now aged 14, 12 and 8, study at the local school and take courses – English, Arabic and computers – at the local refugee centre. His wife teaches knitting and sewing to other refugees there, and Hassan teaches them computer skills.
"Because returning to Iraq or Iran is not an option, and continued stay in Indonesia is impossible, we continue to seek resettlement in a third country as the best way to protect Hassan and his family," says Ashe.
"By finding solutions for such cases in other countries, we are able to encourage Indonesia to continue its tolerant approach in allowing asylum seekers and refugees to stay here on a temporary basis."
By Anita Restu in Cisarua, Indonesia
Related stories by:
- UNHCR urges Europe to do more to help Syrian refugees
- Orphaned and terrorized, Afghan siblings fly to a new start in Australia
- US wraps up group resettlement for Myanmar refugees in Thailand
- First group of Syrian refugees flies to Germany
- For a refugee family in Spain, a new life presents new challenges
- Stateless in the Philippines: Indonesian descendants feel torn between two lands
- More than 20,000 people risk all on Indian Ocean to reach safety: UNHCR report
- As thousands continue to flee Myanmar, UNHCR concerned about growing reports of abuse
- Tricked by smugglers, it's sink or swim for Afghan youth
- Jakarta workshop seeks to strengthen protection at sea in Asia-Pacific
Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.
Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.
A repository for exchanging ideas on resettlement partnerships, June 2011.
An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.
The Integration of Resettled Refugees
UNHCR guidance on the reception and integration of resettled refugees.
July 2011 edition of the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook.
Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp
Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.
UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.
As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.
Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp
One Year On: Rebuilding Aceh
In the aftermath of the devastating 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, UNHCR mounted a massive relief operation for some 100,000 survivors on the severely battered west coast of Indonesia's Aceh province.
After the initial three-month emergency relief phase was over, UNHCR withdrew from Aceh. However, in June 2005, after the Indonesian government had assessed the needs for the reconstruction and rehabilitation phase, UNHCR returned to assist in rebuilding the west coast communities. All the survivors' main infrastructural needs – such as schools, community centres, places of worship and family homes – have been included in the holistic reconstruction effort, and efforts have been made to ensure they are all designed to suit the Acehnese way of life. Rebuilding is already underway in the villages of Kreung Sabee and in Calang.
UNHCR has also been helping the recovery effort on Nias Island, off the coast of Sumatra, which was struck by an 8.7 magnitude earthquake on 28 March.
One Year On: Rebuilding Aceh
Syrians stream from their war-torn country into Iraq's Kurdistan region
Thousands of Syrians streamed across a bridge over the Tigris River and into Iraq's Kurdistan region on Thursday, August 15th. UNHCR Field Officer, Galiya Gubaeva, was on the ground with her camera.