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.”