Refugee Children in Indonesia

Lisa Hayes | February 20, 2015

Unaccompanied minors living in a CWS shelter in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Lisa Hayes / CWS

Unaccompanied minors living in a CWS shelter in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Lisa Hayes / CWS

When I first arrived at a shelter CWS runs for unaccompanied minors, it appeared dorm-like. Perhaps like a fraternity house on a college campus, with many boys sharing rooms, about 10 bunking in each.

It appears normal – the boys eat together, play sports, study English. But there are many differences between the youths here and a college campus in the United States.

Why? These teenagers are here because they have fled to save their lives.

Violence is commonplace in their home countries, which include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Sri Lanka. They have fled from conflict involving the Taliban, al-Shabab, ethnic and/or religious discrimination or even domestic violence in their own families. Some have been physically attacked and abused. Others have seen their homes and villages terrorized. Still others had to flee because of the constant threat of violence.

Unaccompanied minors live in two different CWS shelters in the heart of Jakarta, Indonesia. With about 30 minors in each shelter, the average age is about 17; the youngest I met with was 12 years old.

Security concerns are a priority: When I visited, I had to protect the identity of this group of adolescents, not photographing their faces and promising not to share their names.

Though each has a unique story, common patterns exist. These refugees have left their families, paying smugglers typically $8,000 to leave their home country in search of peace.

The difficulties they have faced are unimaginable. I felt in a completely different world as they told me about what happened to them. Stripped of their civil rights, they have been denied dignity and things many of us take for granted, including access to education. All while bombings can happen at any moment.

But now, they can have a better future.

Bunk beds where the minors sleep. Photo: Lisa Hayes / CWS

Bunk beds where the minors sleep. Photo: Lisa Hayes / CWS

CWS works in partnership with UNHCR—the UN agency for refugees—to provide safe accommodations and activities for these minors. The services include secure housing, guardianship, a weekly allowance, living supplies, health services, English and computer classes, emotional/psychological support and cooking groups. The youths can also take advantage of physical activities such as swimming, futsal (indoor soccer), badminton, table tennis and a semester outing. I was impressed with the amount of assistance and care that my fellow CWS colleagues had with each minor.

In the coming months, we will share stories from minor and adult refugees, both men and women, living in Jakarta. They are now safe, and you can learn more about their captivating stories by signing up for our RSS feed.

Lisa is a Promotions Associate for CWS.