Two years ago her family packed their most sacred belongings into a backpack. Photographs, treasured items and three pairs of clothing were all they could fit. Along the way, Amina’s backpack was stolen. She lost her favourite top and a photograph of her father. She had become an asylum seeker with nothing but the clothes on her back.
I met Amina last month whilst visiting West Java, Indonesia. She had an infectious smile and she was one of those people that can easily find a special place in your heart. When Amina told me what had happened to her and her family, I couldn’t help but grip her hand and try not to cry.
Amina and her family are Hazara, an ethnic minority group in Afghanistan that are being persecuted by the Taliban. After her father was killed, they were left with no choice but to flee. Her family travelled the long journey from Afghanistan to India, to Malaysia, and finally ventured the terrifying boat journey to Indonesia. They had heard that Indonesia was a place where refugee statuses can be processed, in the hope of seeking protection.
“As we got closer to Indonesia, suddenly our boat began to sink into the sea. I was small and I didn’t know how to swim. I was so scared,” Amia recalls.
Others in the boat helped Amina and her siblings to stay afloat. Shortly afterwards, they arrived in Indonesia, their new home, but not a place that they could stay. Those seeking asylum cannot be settled in Indonesia. To make things worse, Indonesia hasn’t signed the UN Refugee Convention. This means that families like Amina’s are denied the right to work or study in Indonesia. They often live in poor conditions, without access to water and live crammed into small bedrooms.
Amina’s family, like many others living in Indonesia, are looking to seek asylum through the correct legal channels, not by “illegal boats” as defined by Australia’s domestic law. Their claim for asylum is currently being processed through the United Nations Refugee Agency, but the average waiting period is anywhere between eight and 48 months. Two years has passed, and Amina and her family are losing hope. All they want is to move to a safe country, one like Australia, where I was fortunately born. So often people seeking asylum are thought of as boat people trying to smuggle their way into Australia, but that’s not the case. Amina’s story is a story of a little girl who travelled across the world to seek safety after her father was murdered. She’s a girl just like any other girl, who has dreams about being a doctor and changing the world. Then why are we not doing all that we can to ensure her rights to safety are met?
“I have no regrets leaving Afghanistan. Now all my friends there are dead,” Amina shared.
Can you imagine what it would be like to have your father persecuted? To have your only bag of belongings stolen? To be waiting for two years for the day when you will get to start your new life? I honestly can’t imagine what that would be like. Whilst Amina is waiting to be resettled into another country, she has been studying at a school set up for asylum seeker children in Indonesia. Here the classes are all taught in English to ease the difficulties of being resettled to an English-speaking country. Although Amina is currently receiving an education, the school is not officially registered and could be closed at any moment.
Amina looks forward to the day when this is all in the past and put behind her. The day when she doesn’t have to worry about how her family will afford to get by. The day when she can be settled into a country like Australia and do the all the things that you are likely doing right now – living life freely. Amina told me to share her story so that Australians and others can understand why she and her community cannot live in Afghanistan anymore.
People seeking asylum shouldn’t have to wait up to four years whilst living in a place of limbo in places like Indonesia. If that was me, I’d go crazy being unable to work or study. We all need to contribute. To feel valued – that’s what work and study gifts us. A means to contribute and when stripped of those rights and forced to live in terribly poor conditions for an indefinite amount of time, you can’t blame Amina and her family for losing hope.
I left her village that day feeling both inspired and overwhelmed by what I had just encountered. I wish that I could write a letter to our government and have Amina’s family move into my house and become a part of my family, but it’s just not that simple. It’s easy to feel helpless when there are 65.3 million people around the world who have been forced from their homes. But we do have the power to do something. If you’ve never met someone who has sought asylum before, now’s your chance.
If you’re living in Sydney, check out House of Welcome’s Cooking Classes which encourage connection between people seeking asylum and refugees and the wider community through shared meals.
The Welcome Centre in Adelaide hosts fortnightly community dinners on Thursdays where you bring a meal to share and meet some incredible new people.
If you’ve got some spare time, then consider volunteering at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne. Here you can work on programs that help to support asylum seekers and refugees living in Australia.
You can also donate to the United Nations Refugee Agency to help asylum seekers and refugees living in displacement camps and to help with the costs of application processes.
*Name changed for safety reasons.