Indonesia: escape from Rakhine state
23 November 2012

Noor is currently waiting with his wife and family in Indonesia for refugee status determination from the UNHCR (Bambang A. Sipayung SJ/JRS)
I just hope we can finally realise our dreams of living safe, dignified lives where we are treated as human beings with rights, and my children can have an education and other opportunities.
Cisarua, 23 November 2012 – JRS met Noor in Cisarua at the end of October 2012. Eight years ago, he fled his home town of Buthidaung town in the Burmese state of Rakhine. A member of the Rohingya ethnic minority, Noor tells a harrowing tale of struggle and survival in the face of poverty and persecution. This is his story.

Eight years ago after we celebrated Eid Al-Adha, a four-day Islamic religious holiday, my family was swimming in the seaside when suddenly the army came and took the men, including myself, away. For three days we were forced to work as porters, carrying heavy loads of up to 60kg for kilometres at a time.

One of my relatives was too weak, and they beat him until his head began to bleed. I tried to help him but an officer saw and beat me until I fell to the ground, knocking out a few teeth and bloodying my face. At the end of the week, we were freed; but had to find our own way home without food or guidance.

This is a normal part of life for a Rohingya in Rakhine. Rohingyas are denied citizenship and cannot move freely, except to certain places at limited times. We live under the constant threat that the government will take our land and give it to others. The Burmese government also prohibits us from practicing our religion, Islam.

Our temporary ID cards are not even accepted by most public service providers, such as hospitals. Many of our schools have been closed and we are not allowed go to university. With limited access to education, we can only do petty jobs. When I lived there, like many others in my village, I planted vegetables and grew food. But, we were not allowed to go to town to sell our produce.

Military abuse makes life even harder. Many Rohingya are randomly kidnapped, tortured and never return. Neither death nor forced disappearance is unfamiliar to Rohingyas.

Abandoned in Indonesia. If any of us has money, we try to find a way out of the country. My father urged me to find a safe place where I could work, so I went to Malaysia. I worked without legal documents there for six years and eventually managed to save enough money for a trip Australia.

A smuggler offered to take my family, along with 16 others, to Australia by boat. After two nights, many passengers became seasick, so the captain left us in a hotel in Indonesia, promising to return in one or two days. One week later we were still waiting by which time we have been forced to leave the hotel, which had only be paid for two nights. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try to reach the office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Jakarta.

A local man said he could get us tickets for one million Indonesian rupiah, or roughly 104 US dollars, per ticket. I only had 200 Malaysian ringgit, or 65 US dollars, in my pocket. I gave him my wife's bracelet, which cost 1400 Malaysian ringgit. He gave me four bus tickets to Jakarta and some cash in return. I had no other choice.

We travelled for three days before reaching Tanggerang, a city 25 km west of Jakarta. We then took a taxi to UNHCR, but when we arrived it was closed.

The next day we went back to UNHCR and applied for refugee status. There was nothing left to do but wait for the decision. I knew the money we had left would not last long.

Luckily we made an Indonesian friend who helped us survive for the next two months. We found a cheap room to rent in Ciawi, a small town in West Java close to Jakarta.

Waiting with empty pockets. When our money ran out, I was desperate. Without access to employment, we had no way to earn money. I went to the detention centre and asked to be arrested, but was told to leave after one night.

Two months later, my wife and niece made contact with the Church World Service (CWS), an international humanitarian organisation. CWS gave us a small stipend and referred us to JRS for more support.

My situation in Indonesia is not easy, especially because I'm not allowed to work here. Our survival depends on the little money given by charity. However, I feel safe, because I can practice my religion freely here. I've no problem with local people in the neighbourhood or anywhere in Indonesia.

Right now our biggest concern is managing to survive while we wait for the UNHCR decision. My only hope for the future is refugee status. I pray UNHCR will announce the decision soon so we can move to another country and rebuild our lives.

I just hope we can finally realise our dreams of living safe, dignified lives where we are treated as human beings with rights, and my children can have an education and other opportunities.