When Having a Dream is a Luxury for a 19-year-old Boy…

換日線 Crossing 


I just wish I can live in a safe country somewhere, anywhere.” A 19-year-old Afghan teenager said to me.

Ali Ahmad Jafari had an East Asian face. He was destined to be a “refugee” at birth when his parents fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan seeking asylum before he was born. Having not obtained citizenship, they had to stay in Pakistan as refugees. This is the country where Ali was born. He is only 19 this year, but is stranded in Indonesia.


Ali is a Shia Muslim, and one of the Hazaras. People of this ethnic group are of Turkic and Mongol ancestry. They mainly live in central Afghanistan, Iran and a few regions in Pakistan. Over the years, they have been faced with racial discrimination and the Taliban’s massacres.    


Ali lost his parents when he was little. It was his Aunt that brought him up. Life in Pakistan was not at all peaceful. As he described, “bombs could go off around you at any time.” Ali said that he had to walk to school as fast as he could, because cars and buses around him could explode at any time. The Hazaras were the targets of the attacks. They had to be extremely cautious with just about every aspect of their life. Every day, they were living in fear.

According to Pakistani media, over the last few years, the Hazaras living in Pakistan have suffered ethnic persecution and become the targets of bomb attacks. Since 1999, over 1,400 Hazara people have been killed.

In 2008, Ali’s cousin fled to Australia in search of a better life. Later, he was granted Australian citizenship through asylum by the Australian government. Two years ago when Ali was 17, his aunt made some arrangements so that Ali could follow in his cousin’s footsteps.  Ali was hoping to live in Australia, but never thought he would be stranded in Indonesia. He’s not allowed to work or study. It’s been almost three years now.

Ali said that his aunt paid some smugglers to help him fly from Pakistan to Cambodia, then to Thailand, and then to Malaysia by boat. He stayed in Malaysia for quite a few days before he set off to Indonesia by boat late one night. 

Ali said, “My only belonging was a backpack, which was stolen by the smugglers in Cambodia.” When he reached Indonesia, he only had his passport and his clothes left.


Once he arrived in Indonesia, he immediately went to the United Nations’ office and applied for his refugee status. After weeks of verification and interviews, he finally got it. But Indonesia is not a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The only thing the refugees can do in Indonesia is to wait until the United Nations resettles them in third countries. They are not allowed to work, study or get married there. At the interviews, the United Nations officials told Ali to wait for further notice. He then began his long wait. But he would never have thought that after over 30 months of waiting, there was still nothing.   


Ali showed me his credit-card-sized “Refugee Card” and told me he had to renew it every year at the United Nations’ office. However, since the last interview around two years ago, he had never had the chance to see their officials again. The progress of his resettlement in another country, as a result, was unknown. The only thing he could do was to stay put and keep waiting.

At present, Ali is sharing a rented apartment with other refugee-status-holding Hazaras in a tall building in Jakarta. He gets to pay a relatively low rent by helping with the cleaning and other housework. Since working is not allowed, Ali’s cousin is paying for all his living expenses.

 “When I see Indonesian students on their way to school, I feel so jealous,” Ali sighed and told me in fluent English. He said that every time he saw a student wearing a school uniform on his way to school, he would miss his own days at school. When in Pakistan, Ali used to attend a school established by an NGO. There were only five grades in the school for refugees. After finishing Grade Five, there was no higher grade available. He later attended some English classes outside school, hence his fluent English.

Ali said that when he was young, he had a dream of becoming a computer engineer. But he was afraid of dreaming now. He only wished he could be resettled in a safe country. To study or to work, he would be happy either way, as long as he could live a proper life.

When I think about it, a 19-year-old teenager should be a freshman in a university who is full of hope for the future! However, Ali, who is stranded in Indonesia, has long lost any motivation to dream. 


Ali is only one of over 10,000 refugees in Indonesia. According to statistics, there are 13,500 refugees there who are waiting to be resettled in other countries. Australia’s tightened refugee policies and refusal to accept more refugees have made the resettlement even harder. How long does Ali still have to wait? No one knows the answer.

* This article was originally published in Chinese on Crossing on this page.  thatcontinent has been authorized to edit and republish this article.

** Photo credit: Zachary

Storyteller's Bio:  


Crossing is a global opinion platform based in Taiwan with more than 250 contributors worldwide, ranging from college students to industry professionals in various sectors. The contributors having been sharing their overseas expenditures, insights and observations of global issues, and other life experiences through articles as well as ongoing dialogues amongst each other and the readers.

Reflecting the interests of our contributors, our core readers share the same passion for an open debate on these matters. Having mainly youngsters with strong desires to explore the unknowns and to express themselves, our readers age span from 20-30, 50 % male and 50% female. We find that the rapid development of Crossing marks the uprising of this excitingly new generation. Our everyday mission is to ensure the voices of this generation can be perfectly expressed and conveyed to the greater society.

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札克利 / Zachary


2016 年辭掉工作,到東協國家之一印尼,學語言、識文化。期待透過文字抹去台灣人對印尼的偏見,重新認識這個既熟悉又陌生的國家。現居印尼雅加達,在英文媒體實習中。

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