Two women – both ardently committed to bringing hope to those forcibly made hopeless – have returned time and time again to Bogor, a city 60km south of Jakarta in Indonesia, to hear the real stories. Not the stories which trickle through our mainstream media channels with filters and agendas, but the actual on-the-ground stories of the people living a life in limbo.
Bogor is a hub for some 3,000 refugees and asylum seekers who have fled danger in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Approximately 500 are children and youth.
While families wait to hear of their application status - which can often take up to several years - life is put on pause. Everything comes to a complete stop. With no rights to work or access education, families live in very basic conditions with no certainty regarding their future on a day-to-day basis.
Meet Laura O’Neill and Julia Frei from Australia who have worked extensively with displaced people over the last decade all around the world. Connected not only by their passion, but their deep compassion for refugees and asylum seekers in Indonesia, Laura and Julia are raising essential funds to establish a learning centre in the area of Cisarua for the displaced children and youth of Bogor.
I speak with Laura who shares why her and Julia are devoted to their project.
But before we begin, take a moment to watch this video Tomorrow Today. Meet the people of Bogor.
Laura, can you explain to me the situation for refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves in Indonesia? What rights – or more accurately, lack of rights - do they have access to? What is life like on-the-ground?
“Many asylum seekers have traditionally come to Indonesia with the intention to find a people smuggler to aid their journey to Australia by boat. Since the introduction of the current government's deterrence policy, many individuals and families are no longer choosing to take this journey. Therefore, thousands of asylum seekers are waiting in Indonesia for their refugee status determination outcomes. During this waiting period, adults are unable to work which means that it is incredibly difficult for people to support themselves and their families. Children do not attend local school and spend their days without purpose in small rented rooms.”
I know you have both have recently visited Bogor to meet families who have been displaced from their homelands. Tell me, what took you to Bogor?
“I first went to the Bogor area because I knew this area is a migration hub where many asylum seekers lived. After arriving to Jakarta, I met a young Hazara man who invited me into his community. I was a total stranger to these people yet I was hosted in absolute warmth and hospitality, sharing food, shelter, stories and tears with individuals, families and children. Their situation and stories moved me deeply and since then, Julia and I have both returned a number of times to develop our project – a learning centre for children in the area known as Cisarua - so we can find ways to give back to these people who deserve so much more.”
During your conversations with the community, what stories were shared? What were you shocked to learn?
“I learnt a lot about people who have been displaced from their homelands. People, who like you and me, have tapestries of history and dreams for their futures. I heard stories that force people to flee from war, terror, kidnappings, bomb blasts, persecutions, missing family members and the heartache of often leaving alone and carrying a burden of worry for the wellbeing and safety of remaining relatives.”
“Knowing the conditions of Indonesia Immigration Detention Centres (IDCs), I guess one challenging thing that shocked me was that as a result of the desperation of not being able to support themselves in the community, quite a number of families and individuals seek imprisonment and lack of freedom just so that they may have a roof over their head and a bowl of rice provided each day. Even this tough option is not always viable (because the IDCs are overcrowded), sometimes people are turned away.”
Tell me about your project Laura. What impact do you want to have on the refugee and asylum seeking community in Bogor?
“By developing relationships with the local communities to inform a needs-assessments, we are identifying the most appropriate methods to support asylum seekers. Our model aims to provide a grassroots, community led learning space for children of varied ages and cultural backgrounds to attend and develop. The local community will be volunteering as teachers and directors who support parent's involvement with their child's education. We also see local Indonesian integration, support and acceptance as a key deliverable for the project's success. We hope that by facilitating this space we can impact the local community by providing a sense of community, purpose, routine and hope.”
Why do you think education is essential to creating change among these families?
“When families are on a path of uncertain migration, it is very difficult to imagine how their lives may eventually settle. The worries and traumas that the families suffer is insurmountable. Many parents we have met see education as an investment for their child or children's futures and by assisting children to access this human right, entire families can feel hope and relief for the future. We anticipate the centre can cater for around 60 students.”
Have you faced any challenges with the local authorities?
“We have not faced any direct tensions so far through working with the Indonesian authorities, however we know there have been sensitivities in the past and local NGOs ceased their operations. Through the recent election of President Jokowi we are really optimistic to build positive relationships, policies and support for asylum seekers. Our project will continue to form relationships with local community members to educate them and involve them regarding the situation and plight of refugees.”
What have been the highlights?
“We are both so enthusiastic and delighted to have the support of so many family, friends and compassionate supporters who believe in our vision. For me personally, each time I'm notified of a new donation for our campaign, I feel a sense of euphoria and can't wait to facilitate our project through these funds. Meeting the families that will become the beneficiaries of our project is also a great highlight. These communities truly show the meaning of grace, humility, compassion, patience and resilience.”
How much are you trying to raise through your crowdfunding scheme? How will the funds be used?
“Our ultimate goal is $15,000, however the tipping point of our campaign is $7,200. With these initial funds we will be able to support a learning centre in Indonesia by paying yearly rent for the building space, teacher support, educational resources, books, stationary and other practical needs. We have identified a need for further teacher training and support and will also use funds to deliver training to build local capacity. With more money, we will be able to take this project to different regions throughout Indonesia. This could include Makassar, Medan, Surabaya, Mataram or other regional areas where children are lacking education. Julia and I pay for our own expenses on the road so all the funds raised go towards the people on-the-ground.”
How can people help support your project?
“We are currently running a fundraising campaign through the crowdfunding platform Start Some Good. By following the link you can view a short video that documents the situation in Cisarua and describes our project - the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre. Please check it out at here. Every donation - big or small - has a great impact on the refugee communities and by sharing the link with three people in your networks, you will help us spread the word to supporters like yourself.”
What’s next looking forward?
“Julia and I are excited to complete our fundraising campaign in the next few weeks so we can begin implementing the project. We will be returning to Indonesia in the very near future to set up the learning centre and begin our outreach services including training and capacity building. We can't wait to begin and are really enthusiastic to see this project put into action!”
To learn more, read Laura’s story Life in Limbo published in Right Now – Human Rights in Australia.
Uncertainty brings with it so much angst and worry, especially when we are talking about the uncertain future of your entire family. This is how the displaced families of Bogor live, not just for the short term, but often for years on end, not knowing whether they will be allowed to stay in Indonesia, be forced to return to unsafe conditions back home or instructed to move elsewhere. Life is well and truly in limbo.
Question: I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of forced migration. Around the world it is a topic which arouses controversy but one that needs to be discussed openly and in safe spaces to move forward and help people who are living a life in limbo.
This space is safe. Share your thoughts below.