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

Homeless refugees do it tough on Indonesia streets

Photo essay: People-smugglers promised them new lives in Australia, instead, they were dumped penniless on Jakarta’s streets where they’re forced to sleep rough.

April 2, 2018

Some of the saddest stories I have heard are those of Somalian women living rough on Jakarta’s streets.

Most had lost their family to war or were raped – or both.

As a result, they were deemed burdens by their communities and sent away with people-smugglers, who promised to take them to Australia.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, they were dumped in Jakarta, where they struggle to access the limited humanitarian aid available for asylum seekers and refugees in the city.

I followed one group of homeless women for a week with my camera.

This is their story.

Homeless Somalian refugee women sit on the street in Jakarta. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. They cannot legally work or access social security in Indonesia. Around two-thirds of the 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in the country are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres, according to the UNHCR.

Homeless Somalian refugees Igra and Stahil take a nap on the street in Jakarta at night before moving on to another favoured resting spot. The pair say they’re constantly on the move because local residents often become upset if they linger in one location for too long. Former hotel owner Igra escaped Somalia after militants threatened to cut off her hands for refusing to close down her business, while Stahil fled after her father was murdered and she was targeted by the militants for shaking hands with a man. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street.

Homeless Somalian refugee women sit in the street at night in Jakarta. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. The women say not only do they have difficulties accessing food, but they also face nightly dangers from men looking for sex.

Homeless Somalian refugee women sleeping on the street at night in Jakarta. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. Life is tough for the women, most drift from one boarding house to the next where they beg other refugees for food. If they’re fortunate they stay a few days before the Indonesian landlord moves them along and when they’re not, they sleep in the street or on the steps of a local mosque.

Homeless Somalian refugee women sleeping on the street at night in Jakarta. Many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. Around two-thirds of the 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in the country are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres, according to the UNHCR. For those outside the safety net life is tough. Many sleep rough in the streets around Jakarta’s already full immigration detention centre for months hoping for access, or queue day after day at the UNHCR’s corporate office to appeal for help.

Homeless Somalian refugee women sleeping in a Jakarta laneway at night. Like many other Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. The women say they struggle to find food and shelter and have limited access to toilets, bathrooms and medical facilities. At night, they also face the added danger of violence from men who sometimes try to force them to have sex.

Homeless Somalian refugee Igra sits at the Mosque of Al Barokah in Jakarta for safety at night. The former hotel owner fled her civil war-wracked country 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 street. At night she faces the added danger of violence from men looking for sex. “I don’t feel safe here at night,” Igra says. “On the street, I am vulnerable to anyone.”

Somalian refugee women sit at the Mosque of Al Barokah in Jakarta for safety at night. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. Indonesia has traditionally been a transit nation to western countries but in recent months the UNHCR has been meeting with refugees to tell them most will never be resettled. The women, who now face the prospect of spending many more years in the country than they first anticipated, say they struggle to find food and shelter, and have limited access to toilets, bathrooms and medical facilities.

Somalian refugees Norta and Khadro walking in a Jakarta street at night. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. At night refugee women living on the street face the added danger of sexual violence. The women say men often try to force refugee women to go with them for sex. They also struggle to find food and shelter and have limited access to toilets, bathrooms and medical facilities.

Somalian refugees Norta and Khadro walking in a Jakarta street at night. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. Around two-thirds of the 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in the country are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres, according to the UNHCR. For those outside the safety net, life is tough. Many sleep rough in the streets around Jakarta’s already full immigration detention centre for months on end hoping for access, or queue day after day at the UNHCR’s corporate office to appeal for help.

Homeless Somalian refugees sit on the bank of the Ciliwung River in Jakarta at night hoping to catch a cool breeze. Many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. There are 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in the country, according to the UNHCR. Two-thirds are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres.

Homeless Somalian refugees Rahma and *Hani sit on the bank of the Ciliwung River in Jakarta at night. Like many other Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia and dumped after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, Rahma and Hani have fallen through the aid safety net. Rahma narrowly escaped death when militants beheaded her father in Mogadishu and burned her remaining family alive in an attack on the family’s business, while Hani fled her country after she was abducted and raped. Her father, a security guard at a government building, was also beheaded. *Name changed.

Homeless Somalian refugees sit in a public space on the bank of the Ciliwung River. The women say they’re often told to move-on by locals during the day but at night they’re able to relax in the deserted area. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. The women struggle to find food and shelter and have limited access to toilets, bathrooms and medical facilities. At night, they also face the added danger of violence from men, who try to coerce them into having sex.

Homeless Somalian refugee Igra descends the stairs of a Jakarta boarding house. 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 spends most of her time living rough on the street.

Homeless Somalian refugee Hani sitting in a boarding house in Jakarta. The 23-year-old fled Mogadishu in 2015 after she was abducted and raped. In the months leading up to her departure, Hani’s father, a security guard at a government building, was beheaded and her siblings were killed in a bombing. Like many other Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, Hani has fallen through the aid safety net and lives on the street. She says her frequent appeals for help from the UNHCR and its partner NGOs have been rejected. Name changed.

Homeless Somalian refugee Stahil prepares to pray in a boarding house Jakarta. The 23-year-old, whose family rejected Al-Shabaab’s version of Islamic law, fled her civil war-wracked country after her father was murdered and she was targeted by the militants for shaking hands with a man. Like many other Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after militants raped them or murdered their family, Stahil has fallen through the aid safety net and lives on the street. She says Somalians in Indonesia try to help each other but many do not have enough to share. There is “severe hunger” here, she says.

Somalian refugees Mudan, *Hani and Nimo (L-R) sit in a boarding house room in Jakarta. Mudan, 17, receives NGO support and is able to rent a room with a bed. Refugee women from the street often stay in the hot, windowless room with Mudan. The women say the boarding house rooms are checked most mornings and if extra people are found, the landlord asks for more rent or moves them along. Many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. *Name changed.

Homeless Somalian refugee Hani sleeps on the verandah of a Jakarta boarding house. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, Hani has fallen through the aid safety net. She cannot legally work or access social security in Indonesia and says her appeals for aid from the UNHCR and the NGOs have been turned down. Hani drifts from one boarding house to the next where she begs other refugees for food. If she’s fortunate she stays a few days before the landlord moves her along and when she’s not, she sleeps rough in the street or on the steps of a local mosque. At night refugee women living on the street face the added danger of sexual violence. They say men regularly try to force them into sex or proposition them with offers of as little as one dollar. Name changed.

Somalian refugee women sit on the street at night in Jakarta. Like many Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, they have fallen through the aid safety net and live on the street. They struggle to find food and shelter and have limited access to toilets, bathrooms and medical facilities.

Homeless Somalian refugee Safiya sits with her eight-year-old daughter Sabrine as the pair get ready to sleep in a Jakarta street. The pair were smuggled to Indonesia following the beheading of Safiya’s government employed husband by Al-Shabaab in 2015. Like many other Somalian refugee women smuggled to Indonesia after Al-Shabaab militants raped them or murdered their family, Safiya has fallen through the aid safety net and lives on the street.

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