Mohammad Raza, a 29-year-old Hazara refugee, said his daughter was just five days old when he fled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
“Now, she is five-years-old. When I talk with her on phone, she doesn’t recognise me. I am a stranger for her.”
Raza was speaking to me on the sidelines of the World Refugee Day event in Jakarta on Tuesday, organised by the Indonesia Civil Society Network for Refugee Rights Protection (SUAKA). SUAKA, in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), Church World Services (CWS), Sandya Institute and Dompet Dhuafa marked the World Refugee Day 2017 with an event that saw refugees and asylum seekers around the world celebrate their respective cultures through traditional dances, dramas, songs and other creative performances.
“The people around the world celebrate June 20 as my day (Refugee Day) but for me, every day has been a refugee day.
“During these five years, my life has been stuck and meaningless: waiting for uncertain future. I am still not sure whether I will be resettled in a third country or I will be sent back to the hell I fled.”
There is a cold and bitter truth in Raza’s sad tale, a story all too familiar to thousands of others like him around the world.
According to the UN Refugee Agency’s annual Global Trends study released Tuesday in conjunction with World Refugee Day, a total of 65.6 million people were forcibly displaced as at end-2016, as a result of persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations.
To put that into perspective: the population of the world’s displaced persons outstrips the population of the United Kingdom.
The report also states that on average, 20 people were driven from their homes every minute last year, or one every three seconds.
Alarmingly, the statistics also show us that the process of resettlement hasn’t improved, despite the growing population of refugees around the world. According to the report, only 189,300 refugees were resettled last year, a number that is painfully small in comparison to the 65.6 million who were displaced.
In Indonesia, there is currently an estimated 14,000 asylum seekers and refugees, including 465 children under 18, who are desperately waiting in transit for an uncertain future. Most come from Afghanistan (57 percent), Burma (8 percent) and Somalia (7 percent).
And more are arriving.
According to National Information and Advocacy Officer of Jesuit Refugee Services Indonesia Lars Stenger, some 2,700 more arrivals were recorded in Indonesia between July 2016 and May 2017. In the same period, about 2,000 left the country, either because they were sent back to their home countries or successfully got resettled in a third country.
Earlier this year, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to cap refugee intake at 50,000 for the year, less than half the 110,000 goal proposed by his predecessor Barack Obama.
Just this week in Australia, two conservative Australian Senators, Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson, proposed the country’s withdrawal from the UN refugee convention, describing it as “irretrievably broken” and that “national security must always come before accepting refugees”.
— Aust Conservatives (@AuConservatives) June 20, 2017
Senate quashed the motion but I fear this isn’t the last of it. I expect we will hear of more such discriminatory, and frankly illogical, policies this year as more of the world, swayed perhaps by Trump’s isolationist “us before them” ideology, close their doors to humanity. If we continue down this road, the total number of resettled refugees by end-2017 will be next to nothing.
And more like Raza will be living in limbo.
We’d do well to listen to the words of UN high commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi, who put it succinctly in his appeal for compassion and understanding for the plight of the displaced:
“Take a moment to ask ourselves what each of us can do to overcome indifference or fear and embrace the idea of inclusion, to welcome refugees to our own communities, and to counter narratives that would seek to exclude and marginalise refugees and other uprooted people.”
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent