The Forgotten Rohingya of Indonesia (Part 1)

Anis Islam
August 8, 2018

Note: Due to sensitivities in disclosing their personal identities, the real names of the individuals interviewed have not been used in this article.

(Photo: Ahmad, 9, has desire of becoming an aeronautical engineer. Source: Rvision)

Ahmad, a nine year-old boy, looks everyday at the sky through the small window, expecting an angel to come who will change his miserable life. He has not understood many things yet about worldly matters but he already has realized his life is different from other children. At his age, all the children go to school but he is unfortunate as he is from a Rohingya refugee family living in Indonesia where around 800 Rohingyas have been lingering with erratic lives since 2011. 25 percent of the total Rohingya refugees are children and more than 90 percent deprived of going to formal school.

"I want to be an aeronautical engineer, my aircraft will save the lives of endangered people," Ahmad answered with conviction in Rohingya language while I asked him a question regarding his aim in life. He doesn't go to school but he goes to a Madrasa (religious informal institution) where he is studying 'Iqra' which is basically learning the Arabic alphabet and pronunciation. He has a strong desire to study English and Mathematics so he wants to go to school. However, his father is unable to afford school expenses. His father, Mr. Muhammad, 34 years old, had to flee away from Myanmar due to unprecedented persecution by the state authorities. He was faced with discriminatory treatment, tortured mercilessly and extorted money by the state authorities in his own country Myanmar where he is stateless due to 1982 inhuman law. 

After losing everything in order to save his life he had taken a perilous voyage to Thailand with a small boat along with another 250 people in 2013. After one month, he went for another risky boat journey towards Australia but only managed to reach the Indonesian seashore where Indonesian police rescued and sent him to Makassar immigration detention center. He had to spend 10 months at that detention center. Now he is staying at a low-cost hotel in Medan which is allocated by UNHCR of Indonesia for the refugees. He cannot work legally, access public services, travel freely or attain citizenship in Indonesia according to existing laws. It even worsened his sufferings when he was informed that his resettlement is unlikely to ever happen. He said, in a grief-stricken voices, “Nowadays, I feel very helpless. I have to see my children sitting at home without education. I can’t even go to work. I want relief from this cursed life.” He has been languishing without change for the past six years but received nothing except frustration. “Since I have been here, I have never able to buy a new cloth for my wife even in festival time. It hurts me,” he further added.

Anis is working as an Archive Consultant at Witness.org and a news writer at Rohingya Vision TV.