Afghan writer’s book of poems gives voice to refugees stranded in Indonesia

Poet hopes Haidari would become the voice of fellow Afghan refugees and those who were oppressed. (AFP)
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Updated 28 February 2020

Afghan writer’s book of poems gives voice to refugees stranded in Indonesia

  • The book is titled after the red ribbon Haidari untied from his dead sister’s hair while fleeing an attack on his village

JAKARTA: An Afghan writer who fled war to Indonesia six years ago has penned a book of poems giving voice to the plight of his fellow refugees.

“The Red Ribbon,” by Abdul Samad Haidari, tells the story of refugees stranded in Indonesia and their protracted wait for resettlement to a third country.

Launched on Sunday, the book is titled after the red ribbon Haidari untied from his dead sister’s hair while fleeing an attack on his village, Dahmarda, in the Arghandab district of Zabul province.

Having worked as a freelance journalist in his country, Haidari, of Hazara ethnicity, told Arab News he had sought solace in poetry when he realized there was little else he could do while a refugee in Indonesia.

He described the book’s publication as a miracle, given the challenges and limitations he has faced.

“It took me more than five years to complete it, with persistence, faith, sweat, tears, and an empty stomach in a humid room some 60 km away from Jakarta, in a remote village,” he said during a launch event at a cultural center in Jakarta.

The poems chronicle Haidari’s life and the circumstances on the night he fled his home to Indonesia, where he has since suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, loneliness and separation.

One of his verses, titled “Dedication to evergreen Indonesia,” is a tribute to the country which for the past seven years has given him shelter. Indonesia’s arms were “warmer than the arms of those who had thrown me out of my hometown,” the poem reads.

Writer and author Carissa Finneren described the poems as “honest and raw,” while poet Ruby Astari told Arab News that she hoped Haidari would become the voice of fellow Afghan refugees and those who were oppressed.

Haidari arrived in Indonesia in 2014 and in 2016 was granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which makes him eligible for resettlement to a third country.

He is one of some 14,000 refugees — more than half of them from Afghanistan — registered with the UNHCR office in Indonesia, who have been waiting for years to be resettled.

Indonesia acts as a transit country, as it is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Its national laws bar refugees and asylum seekers from working. Some of them have access to basic education and healthcare, although very limited.

Their wait has been stretched further as countries that are party to the convention have reduced their refugee intake. Australia, which used to be the main destination for asylum seekers transiting in Indonesia, froze its resettlement program on July 1, 2014.

“The book is a much-needed manifestation of what refugees bring to the world when they are allowed to, encouraged to, given space and opportunities to do so,” said Ann Mayman, UNHCR representative in Indonesia.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Indonesia, Faizullah Zaki Ibrahimi, said the poems made readers feel the pain of a generation that had suffered due to Afghanistan’s long and deadly conflict.

A new hope, the ambassador said, was sparked by a reduction in violence in Afghanistan, which has been in place since Saturday, ahead of an expected peace agreement between the US and the Taliban. If extended, it could eventually lead to peaceful dialogue and eliminate the main cause of Afghans seeking refuge around the world, the envoy added.

“We hope that someday peace comes back to Afghanistan and democracy thrives.”


Military promises Pakistani doctors gear to fight virus

Updated 3 min 12 sec ago

Military promises Pakistani doctors gear to fight virus

  • Some of the doctors said they were mistreated by police and that some of their colleagues were beaten
  • The health ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said 27,039 people have recovered so far while 3,987 remain in critical condition

QUETTA, Pakistan: Pakistan’s military promised Tuesday that dozens of doctors who were briefly jailed for protesting a lack of protective equipment needed to treat the growing number of coronavirus cases will get the equipment they need.
The 47 doctors protested in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, on Monday, when they were detained. They were released later the same day, according to provincial spokesman Liaquat Shahwani.
An army statement on Tuesday said the “emergency supplies of medical equipment, including PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are being dispatched to Quetta.”
However, some of the doctors said they were mistreated by police and that some of their colleagues were beaten. The physicians declined to give their names, fearing reprisals.
Two doctors have died after contracting the new virus in Pakistan, which has recorded 4,004 cases and 54 deaths. Many of the cases have been traced to pilgrims returning from neighboring Iran. Pakistani authorities have imposed a countrywide lockdown until April 14.
In Iran, authorities struggling to battle the virus announced Tuesday they would expand testing to asymptomatic people, but didn’t say how many test kits they have available or provide other details.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki said that with active screening of such cases, there are expectations the virus and COVID-19, the illness it causes, can be brought under control by mid-May.
“With this step, we will go after people without symptoms,” said Namaki, adding this would require a large number of tests. He didn’t elaborate. The health ministry said searching for asymptomatic cases would be combined with restrictions on both city and intercity travel and quarantine.
Iran is facing the worst outbreak in the region. Iran’s state TV said Tuesday the new coronavirus has killed another 133 people, pushing the country’s death toll to 3,872 amid 62,589 confirmed cases.
The health ministry’s spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said 27,039 people have recovered so far while 3,987 remain in critical condition.
There are nearly 109,000 confirmed cases across the Middle East, with more than 4,600 fatalities.
In Egypt, the Ministry of Religious Endowments, which oversees mosques nationwide, called off all celebrations and late-evening prayer services for Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar. The holiday, when devout Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, begins April 23. Mosques and churches have already closed for prayer to curb the spread of the virus in the Arab world’s most populous country. There is also a nightly curfew but the government has resisted a harsher lockdown.
President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Tuesday sought to reassure the jittery public a day after officials reported 149 new infections, bringing the case count to 1,320 and 85 fatalities in the biggest single-day jump so far.
“So far, the situation is under control,” he said in televised comments. “The goal is to minimize the damage caused by the pandemic.”
The Egyptian military, at the forefront of the country’s fight against the virus, said it set up four field hospitals with more than 500 beds to help treat virus patients.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and lead to death.
At a retirement home ravaged by the coronavirus in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, another resident died, the eighth so far there. Dozens of the home’s resident’s have been infected and relatives have been staging angry protests outside the premises in recent days.
Overall, more than 9,000 have been infected in Israel and 60 have died, the vast majority elderly and many in assisted living facilities.