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Learning about life, resilience from refugees

Adella Anna Pratiwi


Jakarta  /  Fri, August 10, 2018  /  11:49 am
Learning about life, resilience from refugees

A Somalian refugee and her children walk in front of the West Jakarta Immigration Detention House in this undated photograph. (JP/ Rifky Dewandaru)

Many of us may be unfamiliar with the issues of refugees and human mobility. Ever since I started working with and managing refugees, I have learned a lot of new things.

Indonesia is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention of the United Nations Human Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), meaning that it has no obligation to resettle displaced people. Meanwhile, some 14,000 persons of concerns (PoC) in our country are registered with the UNHCR as refugees and asylum seekers.

I once asked a PoC about her situation. She replied, “You know what, ma’am, if there was no war or if the condition was not that bad in my country, I would never ever spend even one second here. Who do you think wants to leave a place they call home?”

Well, that’s entirely understandable. When refugees and asylum seekers come here, they don’t know anyone, they don’t know the language or the culture. How do they survive?

Many people come and ask for help in terms of medical aid, shelter and basic needs. It’s indeed depressing that in this modern and humanized era, wars still rage on in other parts of the world. An Amnesty International campaign once said, “It’s not happening here but it’s happening now”, which reminds us that even though Indonesia is relatively stable, we should also keep our eyes open to human rights abuses around the world.

I once read Anne Frank’s diary on her loneliness when hiding from the Nazis. She frequently wrote, “What, oh, what is the use of the war? Why can’t people live peacefully together? Why all this destruction?” She wrote it in 1944. Flash forward to 2018, and war is still here, separating children from parents, killing and injuring countless people as victims of war.

But not everyone is as lucky as I am, as I have witnessed several magical moments that has eventually made me believe in humanity again.

One of the many touching moments was when I witnessed a family reunite after five years of separation. The mother and three small children approached our office to register. The mother asked us whether our office had registered her husband. She said she had searched for him for the past five years in Jordan, Thailand, Malaysia and now, in Indonesia. After several verification processes, we located the husband in Bogor, West Java, and asked him to come to Jakarta.

When the youngest child first spotted his father, he ran to him and gave him the warmest hug I’ve ever seen, bringing me to the verge of tears.  

With all the hardships they have been through and how they have risked their lives to come here, these displaced people are clearly determined to start from zero for the sake of their family’s survival. Isn’t this what anyone would do?

We could each find a million excuses to give up, to escape from our misery, thinking that we carry the heaviest burden in life. Let’s all look instead to the resilience of refugees. They have taught me not just to live, but to truly live.

Life is so precious, and having a place that we can call “home” is a privilege. And most importantly, having a home that is peaceful and a life surrounded by our loved ones is surely the greatest gift of all.


The writer is a former registration assistant at UNHCR Indonesia. The above views are personal.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.