Indonesia is a temporary home for more than 12,700 refugees and asylum seekers who have been forced to leave their countries due to persecution, conflict, human rights violations, or other threats to their safety. On the journey to finding a safer place, many of them risked their lives, some of them by sailing thousands of miles of the ocean where hunger, disease, and death haunted them every second. 

Coming to a transit country often doesn’t end their hardship. With limited access to education and lack of permission to work, as well as cultural and language differences between refugees and host communities, refugees face many barriers to progress in life. Many of them perceive their lives as going round in circles without assurance when they will be able to be resettled to a third country, their new permanent home. On average, refugees in Indonesia have generally waited some 9-10 years, before news about resettlement brings back their hopes and spirit. 

Although it is not a right for refugees, resettlement is viewed as one of the durable solutions for refugees and an expression of international solidarity and shared responsibility with countries hosting large numbers of refugees.  

This year, more than 1,000 refugees who had been living temporarily in Indonesia were resettled to third countries, including the United States of America, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and France. IOM captured their feelings at the departure gate.

Ahmad and Syifa smile happily as they enter the departure gate at Soekarno Hatta International Airport. Photo: © IOM 2023/J.IMELDA

The story of Ahmad & Syifa*

Armed conflict in Somalia has been ongoing since the early 1990s, when the military government of Mohammed Siad Barre collapsed. Since then, the country has been plunged into chaos and protracted civil war.  

The conflict has led to a severe humanitarian crisis, with widespread displacement, violence and a lack of basic services and infrastructures. Somalia continues to struggle to establish a stable and functioning government, and various armed groups have fought for power and control over different parts of the country.  

Syifa's journey from Somalia to Indonesia in 2018 is an example of the humanitarian consequences of the ongoing conflict in Somalia. She left her home country in search of a better life and to reunite with her husband, who had been living as a refugee in Indonesia since 2013. 

"My dream is to build a family with my husband. But that’s impossible in Somalia. My future children will not grow up in a safe and comfortable environment there because of the ongoing conflict," said Syifa during her brief interview with IOM.  

Syifa's concerns are not unfounded. Violence against children in Somalia is relentlessly conducted by all parties to conflict. The UN reported more than 8,000 cases of violence against children with more than 6,500 victims in Somalia between October 2019-September 2021. These children were abducted, maimed, killed, rapped, and recruited as child soldiers. 

Syifa at the departures lounge, and eager to arrive to her final destination of her migration journey. Photo: © IOM 2023/J.IMELDA

"When Syifa was finally able to join me in Indonesia, I was very happy," said Ahmad, Syifa's husband. During his stay in Indonesia, Ahmad lived in one of IOM’s managed accommodations. Meanwhile, Syifa, who arrived later, was living independently.  

While waiting to be resettled to a third country, Ahmad admitted that he often felt anxious about his uncertain future. After spending more than ten years as a refugee in Indonesia, Ahmad finally receiving good news about his resettlement. Her wife who already spent five years in the same country also coming along.  

"I am excited because we can finally continue our lives in the United States (US)," said Ahmad to IOM at Soekarno Hatta International Airport. Meanwhile, with excitement in her voice, Syifa said that she feels relieved as she can start a family in a safe and secure environment, away from the conflict that she had been through. 

"Thanks to IOM for all your help while we were in Indonesia," said Ahmad as he waved at the departure gate. 

Hilal and his family at the airport. Photo: © IOM 2023/J.IMELDA

The Story of Hilal*

Hilal and his family were among more than 3,800 Afghan refugees who are temporarily living in Indonesia.  

"My family has been living in Indonesia for 10 years. I was only eight years old when I first came to Indonesia. But since then, my life seemed to be spinning in place," Hilal explained. Hilal’s father owned a shop in Afghanistan. He sold everything from notebooks to videocassettes. Because of prolonged war, the shop was forced to close and Hilal, his parents and his three siblings had to flee to seek safety. 

In Indonesia, Hilal continued his education to high school level with the help of IOM. Still, he missed the life he had when he lived in his homeland. "I could go and play in my father's shop at any time," Hilal recalled.  "I want my family to have a decent life like before." 

Hilal’s wish finally came true as he and his five family members boarded a plane to Chicago City, embarking on their new life in a new home. Hilal and his younger siblings are hoping to continue their studies, play and spend their youth with their friends. His father will look for any job to support his family, while his mother plans to work in a beauty salon and learn English.  

As he approached the departure gate, Hilal said that he felt like his life was starting to turn again, slowly, and then faster and faster. "My family and I are really happy to finally start a new life in the US".   

Hilal's father, Najib (37) is hopeful, too: "I know that starting a new life in a new place could be challenging for us, but we will learn, and we will do our best to adapt. My children can go back to school and have a bright future. I will work in the US. I will do everything I can”. 

Ali gets ready to leave. He thanked Indonesia for giving him a place to stay for the past 11 years. Photo: © IOM 2023/J.IMELDA

The Story of Ali*

Ali (30) is a young man from Afghanistan who came to Indonesia eleven years ago. While living in Indonesia, he lived independently in Bogor, West Java. 

"I couldn't do any work in Indonesia because I was a refugee. But I am good at construction work. So, I helped many small constructions works in Indonesia voluntarily from time to time,” Ali explained.  

When the resettlement news reached him, Ali was very happy. "I got my resettlement through a sponsorship scheme. My future wife lives in Adelaide, Australia. She sponsored me to come and live in the Kangaroo Country," he said. 

Before walking through the departure gate, Ali expressed his gratitude: "I thank Indonesia for allowing me to stay for eleven years and I also thank IOM for helping me with the process of my departure to Australia". He waved his hand with a smile as he passed the immigration counter to embark on his new journey fulfilling his dreams. 

IOM’s Resettlement Programme 

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Indonesia provides resettlement assistance to third countries for those who have applied for asylum and been granted refugee status by UNHCR. This support includes health assessments and related assistance, travel management and operations, and provides support for their integration into the third country. 

Since 2011, IOM Indonesia has successfully assisted the resettlement of more than 9,000 refugees to third countries, such as Australia, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Germany. Through its assisted voluntary return and reintegration (AVRR)Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programme, IOM furthermore assists migrants including refugees and Indonesian migrants, who wish to return to their countries of origin.  

*Names were changed to protect their identity. 

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities