Asylum seeker Sitari Panahi lost contact with her parents and her brother last week, when the Taliban stormed through Afghanistan and captured, among others, the central province of Daykundi, where the family’s home town is situated.
“Taliban coming. My brother went out. I spoke to my mother. One day, two days, my brother has not come back,” Sitari said on the phone from Bogor, an hour’s drive from Jakarta.
“Three days, I lost contact with my mother. I cannot call her anymore,” she added.
She cannot reach her father either.
The 40-year-old single parent has been in Jakarta for eight years with her 11-year-old son, hoping to be relocated to Australia, where her former husband now lives.
“My brother’s job is security in government office,” said Sitari, breaking into tears, adding that her family back home is among the most-targeted by the Taliban, who had fought against the former Afghan administration and regards government workers as enemies.
“I am always thinking about them now,” she said.
There are about 13,000 refugees currently in transit in Indonesia. At least 7,500 of them are Afghans. The rest come from Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Pakistan. There are also some Rohingya among their numbers.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 United Nations refugee convention, but it allows asylum seekers to wait in the country as their cases are being examined by the UN.
Zico Pestalozzi, programme manager at Suaka, the Indonesian civil society association for refugee rights protection, said that the abrupt fall of the Western-backed Afghan government and the ensuing chaos would further lower the chances of Afghan refugees around the world to be resettled in third countries, since the number of those seeking asylum was bound to grow now.
“Countries in Europe will take in the newest batches of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, obviously, and prioritise journalists, women rights activists, people who had affiliation with foreign armed forces or organisations,” Zico said.
And this comes after resettlement chances for asylum seekers had been dampened by the world’s largest refugee and displacement crisis spawned by the Syrian civil war in 2011.
More asylum seekers started arriving in Indonesia between 2000 and 2002, after a lull during the late 1990s. Arrivals then slowed down but picked up again in 2009. In 2016 and 2017, the number remained relatively stable.
Sitari and her then four-year-old son Benyamin Hakimi arrived in Indonesia in April 2014, travelling through India and Malaysia.
A few years earlier, her former husband left Afghanistan first and managed to get to Australia.
During her first two years in Indonesia, her former husband would occasionally send money to her.
When he stopped doing so, a friend of her father stepped forward to help, making fund transfers from Iran for years until recently when the money stopped coming.
“I would like to go to Australia. My former husband remarried, but my son always asks about his father. I want my son to meet his father,” said the computer science dropout.
Responding to the turmoil in Afghanistan, Indonesia has moved its Afghanistan diplomatic mission from Kabul to Pakistan, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister said on Saturday, after its air force evacuated dozens in the wake of the Taliban’s seizure of power.
“Temporarily, the diplomatic mission in Kabul will be conducted from Islamabad,” Reuters reported, citing Retno Marsudi, who made televised remarks at the Halim military airport in Jakarta. — The Straits Times/ANN