Perils of journey to Australia no deterrent to Somali refugees
Ishwaq Osman (21) is a vivacious young Somali refugee woman who has been living in Jakarta for the last two years. “At the start I could not get the lifestyle here, particularly the food. I was not used to spicy food,” said Osman while pinning her hijab under her chin. After six months Osman said she was eating “nasi goreng [fried rice] every second night.” In 2007 Osman left Somalia to study in Malaysia on a student visa. It was in Kuala Lumpur Osman first met a people smuggler known simply by the name Allen among the refugee community.
He promised to assist anyone seeking to get into Australia. Allen was in fact Alaaeldeen Osman Abdalla El-Zain, a native of Sudan. He is said to be a prominent member of a highly-sophisticated people-smuggling syndicate based in Malaysia and Indonesia, charging clients as up to US$10,000 for passage on one of the illegal boats leaving Indonesian borders to Australia. It is, however, a trip many do not make. Abdalla El-Zain regularly disappears as soon as he attains their money. Earning a comfortable living on false premises, refugees in search of a better life are vulnerable. One mid-afternoon in October 2008, Osman meet Abdalla El-Zain in a well-known hotel in Kuala Lumpur. That was the last time Osman was to see Abdalla El-Zain. Osman knew the chances of ever recovering her $3,000 were slim.
Namila Hassan (22), also Somali, is another victim of Abdalla El-Zain. “I give him $6,000 to go to Australia,” she said. Namila’s first encounter with Abdalla El-Zain was also in Kuala Lumpur. Namila said Abdalla El-Zain is known to hand out copies of his passport, presumably a fake, to gain the trust of Somalis and other refugees desperate to gain entry to Australia. Namila’s journey to Jakarta has not been an easy one. At fifteen she left Somalia to go to Ethiopia. After living in Addis Abbaba for several years she went to Malaysia. Abdalla El-Zain assisted Namila to enter Indonesia. He took her to Surabaya where she stayed with an Indonesian man who worked closely with Abdalla El-Zain.
During her stay in Surabaya, Namila tells a harrowing story about how she was not given food, had to drink dirty water and at one point she thought she was going to die. The situation made worse by the language barrier. She struggled to communicate with the Indonesian smuggler. “I thought my time was up on this earth,” Namila said. If it hadn’t been for family members who eventually managed to get her into Jakarta, Namila is certain that the situation would have been very different. Another young Somali, Fatima Ali (21), also has no kind words to say about Abdalla El-Zain.
“He hurt a lot of people,” Fatima said. In June 2009, Fatima spent six months in an immigration camp after begin on one of the illegal boats intercepted en-route to Australia. Osman, Namila and Fatima are all registered with UNHCR. Other humanitarian bodies, such as Church Word Services Indonesia (CWS) and International Organization for Migration (IOM), assist in providing monthly living allowances and English classes. There are around 200 Somali refugees living in Jakarta. Somalia has had no functioning central government since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.
Militia leaders have carved the country into rival fiefdoms. Al-Qaeda linked Al-Shabab threatens any hope of the current Somalia Transitional Federal government of forming a stable country. The dire situation in Somalia perpetuates the appeal for those like Osman, Namila, and Fatima to leave Somalia. The risk involved in boarding a boat not intended for high seas is never a deterrent.
In the time they have been living in Jakarta, Osman, Namila and Fatima have all learned to speak fluent Bahasa and have come to grips with the Indonesian culture and way of life. Osman said Indonesians were very welcoming. “The people are very helpful, I have never had anything stolen or been in a fight.” As an African she never faced any form of discrimination.
They have also become a fan of television soap series Putri Yang Tertukar (Stolen Princess) and Lagu Cinta Nirmala (Nirmala’s Love Song). Osman and Fatima have been granted refugee status and will leave to Brisbane and Melbourne respectively on Thursday. Namila is still waiting for her application to be processed. “I hope to get it sometime this month,” Namila said.