INDONESIA – Coronavirus increases asylum seeker’s anxieties as wait for resettlement goes on

Article 18 | April 9, 2020

Arash Sadigh went to the UN offices in Makassar, Indonesia for more than 250 days in a row last year to plead for his family’s resettlement to be made a priority.

It is approaching seven years since the 42-year-old Iranian Christian convert, who now prefers to be called John, and his wife Azam, 39, claimed asylum there on account of their religious conversion.

Their son, Samuel, who is five and a half, was born in Makassar, and has only known life within the confines of a refugee centre.

In recent years, John has grown increasingly concerned for the emotional and psychological wellbeing of his wife and son, both of whom he says have become “distressed” by their circumstances and have been seen by psychologists, who have recommended that the family’s case be expedited.

But time and again, John’s pleas have been met by a call to be patient and wait.

“Always they say, ‘Just wait. We are waiting for [the office in] Jakarta, we are waiting for their response,’ John told Article18 via Skype this week. “But until now, there is no news.”

In November, John stopped his daily visits to the UNHCR, after he was advised that it was not helping his case, but five months on and they are still waiting. 

And now John has a new concern: coronavirus.

Indonesia only registered its first case last month, but it is already the Asian country with the highest number of deaths outside China, and there are fears the government’s reaction to the pandemic was too slow, and that the vastly populated country’s poorly equipped healthcare system will be unable to cope.

The city of Makassar, which has a population of nearly one and a half million, has been recognised by the Indonesian government as one of the hotspots of the fast-spreading virus – the first death there was recorded on 19 March – but John says many locals are carrying on as if nothing is happening.

The city’s churches, including John’s, have closed, under government direction, but the mosque across the road from the refugee shelter continues to operate as normal, as does the local shop at which John and the other refugees buy most of their groceries.