Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Indonesia tougher than Somalia for refugees

After Somalian militants burned down her hotel, Igra fled to Indonesia for safety, but the former business owner has fallen through the aid safety net.

April 2, 2018

Somalian refugee Igra hadn’t heard of Indonesia before being dumped in Jakarta by people smugglers.

The former hotel owner fled her civil war-wracked country in 2015 after militants threatened to cut off her hands for refusing to close down her business.

“Al-Shabaab said we don’t want you to work in a public place, you’re a woman. They caught me and beat me for seven days,” she tells AAP through a translator.

“After that, they burned down my hotel, so my father said just leave, save your life.”

Homeless Somalian refugee Igra sits in a boarding house in Jakarta. The former hotel owner fled her civil war-wracked country in 2015 after militants threatened to cut off her hands for refusing to close down her business. Like many other Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, Igra has fallen through the aid safety net and lives on the streets.

The 27-year-old reveals her family was murdered by the militants after she fled. Igra paid traffickers to smuggle her to safety.

“They promised me a better life in a peaceful place where I could work but instead they brought me to Jakarta,” she said.

“I didn’t know it would be like this. It’s worse than Somalia. We don’t have food, we don’t have shelter, we don’t have medication and we don’t even have water to drink.”

Igra is homeless like many other asylum seekers and refugees unable to access aid or Indonesia’s immigration detention centres.

Her days are spent in the network of laneways that make up the district of Petamburan near Jakarta’s central shopping district.

At night she sleeps rough on the street where she says men often try to rape her.

“I don’t feel safe here at night. On the street, I am vulnerable to anyone. Some African men have tried to force me into sex,” she said.

“They wanted to rape me in the street but the local people helped me.”

The men, Igra says, are typically West African expatriate businessmen living nearby. But sometimes Indonesian men try it on too.

Homeless Somalian refugee Igra sits in a boarding house in Jakarta. The former hotel owner fled her civil war-wracked country in 2015 after militants threatened to cut off her hands for refusing to close down her business. Like many other Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, Igra has fallen through the aid safety net and lives on the streets.

The former businesswoman is a straight-talker but her anguish is palpable when discussing the problems refugee women face in Jakarta.

Desperation has forced many into prostitution.

“It’s a problem, they’re hungry. I myself sometimes think about it. It’s hard when life becomes so difficult.”

Refugees living on Jakarta’s street don’t have regular access to bathrooms.

A tearful Igra recounts how she’s often abused by the local community when she’s forced to use the street as a toilet due to the lack of public facilities.

Without access to sanitary products, her monthly period is especially tough. Most women on the street rip strips of cloth from their own hijabs to soak up the blood, she said.

Igra says despite her pleas for help the UN Refugee Agency and its partner NGOs have abandoned her.

“Sometimes I want to kill myself. I can’t go back to my country but staying in Indonesia is very hard.”

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