At the age of 17, Murtaza had the darkest day of his life when his family discovered the body of his father, a victim of the Taliban. When the Taliban came for him next, he knew he had to escape or face the same fate. Leaving Afghanistan, however, was just the start of his epic journey.
Escaping the Taliban was Just the Beginning
Murtaza Hussaini lived an ordinary life growing up as the youngest child in a Hazara family. Born in January 1997, he lived with his older sister and parents in their village Taina Mashay in the Qarabagh District.
Hazaras typically support education and the central government in Afghanistan. So their views are at odds with the Taliban, who surround their region of Taina Mashay. And the Taliban were keen to control this Hazara-owned land.
“The Taliban are everywhere in my village, they are doing whatever they want. They even beheaded the Hazaras many times. They have great influence and the Afghan government is unable to take over our security.”
The abuse of the Hazara people in Afghanistan is widespread and brutal. They are vulnerable as both an ethnic and religious minority people, and their systematic abuse at the hands of the Taliban and the resulting refugee crisis has been termed a genocide.
In late May 2014, Murtaza’s father received a threatening letter from the Taliban and the mullahs who wanted his property. But he wasn’t willing to bend to their demands. Two days later on June 1, armed Taliban men forcibly took Murtaza’s father away.
For a week, the family had no idea where he was or what had happened to him. But then on June 8, his body turned up - disposed of on their own land. The image is forever seared in Murtaza’s memory. His father had been ...
“... brutally beaten and his entire body was bruised and more shockingly he had been shot in his chest in a very horrible way that I will never forget.”
After the burial and mourning ceremony, Murtaza’s distraught mother asked him to go speak with the village elder. Murtaza met him early in the morning on June 20, near a local mosque and told him everything that had happened.
But suddenly the elder became nervous and Murtaza noticed two other people - their faces hidden - lurking in the background. The village elder said he couldn’t help the family and walked away. Murtaza could see that the elder was nervous and was not going to help them.
He and his mother decided Murtaza should take both his and his father’s ID and report the incident to the district government.
Murtaza worked as a welder for his caliph in a local shop. The shop was about a 50 minute bike ride away. When he got to work, he asked the caliph for permission to leave work to go speak with the district government.
Work was very busy that day, so they agreed that he could go the following day. The shop was working on a military checkpoint making frames for doors and windows. Doing any kind of work that supports the Afghan government is deeply forbidden by the Taliban.
They worked at the checkpoint all day and returned to the shop at the end of the day to pack away their tools. On their way home, suddenly Taliban appeared, blocking their way and ordering them off their bicycles. The Taliban were yelling in Pashto and their faces were covered.
They beat Murtaza and his caliph. They were blindfolded and their hands were tied. The Taliban packed them into vehicles. When the blindfolds were removed, they found themselves in a room. There was another person lying there who had been beaten and tortured. Murtaza knew he was in serious trouble.
He was only 17 years old.
“Fear conquered all parts of my body.”
The Taliban men began to beat them again with cables and wooden bats. “You worked with the government, you infidels! You worked with our enemies!” When the Taliban men found his father’s identification in his pocket, they realized they had another reason to continue violating him. They tortured both Murtaza and his caliph, lashing them with heavy electrical cables.
One Taliban man pulled out a gun and threatened Murtaza, but the others told him to wait until the Mullah Saheeb (Taliban elder) arrived to make the final decision.
The other person in the room told them he was an “arbaki” - a local policeman - who had also been caught and accused of aiding the government. He said “The next time their Mullah Saheeb comes, they will kill all of us.”
As the Taliban left to say their prayers, they realized they were alone in the room with the door closed. This was their chance to escape.
There was a small window in the room which they managed to reach. All three men escaped, jumping down from the window to the outside world into the darkness. They went their separate ways and Murtaza made his way as quickly as he could back to his village.
His mother had been frantically searching for him and praying for his safe return. When Murtaza finally reached home, she ...
“... hugged me tight and started crying and asked me who brought these troubles. She was scared and shocked.”
They went to seek the advice of a neighbour - who warned them against going back home. He said if the Taliban find you, they will kill you. The neighbour agreed to hide them in his house.
They settled in for the night. Around midnight, the neighbour discovered the Taliban were searching the village for Murtaza. The neighbour was frightened for his own life and asked Murtaza to leave. His mother begged the neighbour to help Murtaza escape.
Before the sun rose on the day of June 21, 2014, Murtaza left his village for the last time. His neighbour found him a ride and he went to the city of Ghazni. He stayed one night before leaving for Kabul by bus.
When he called his mother, she warned the Taliban were still searching for him. She sent him money to pay for his passage out of Afghanistan and the owner of the hotel connected him with a smuggler. The goal: Indonesia and the UNHCR.
A Forced Journey
The next day - June 26, 2014 - Murtaza flew two hours from Kabul to Delhi and then a few days later on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
On July 12, 2014 he was part of a group of migrants that was moved to the coast in the dark of night. They were taken to a boat for a 3 hour trip to Indonesia.
“We were around 20 people running towards the sea and after spending almost one hour trying, we got to the boat and got on it. The sea was stormy with big waves and sometimes frightening thoughts came to my mind.”
Murtaza feared for his life on that trip. But he survived and they were taken to Pekanbaru where they were provided with food and water.
Three days later, on July 16, 2014, he flew to Jakarta and the next morning, on July 17, Murtaza found the UNHCR office and registered there as an asylum seeker. He thought his problems were over.
A Harsh Welcome
He had reached a safe haven. But it wasn’t what he expected: there was no support available to him at the UNHCR. Outside, he ran into some other Hazara men who were on their way to Makassar because the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is set up there to support refugees.
Murtaza left for Bogor on July 17, 2014 and spent one month there. On August 16, 2014, he took the boat from Bogor to Makassar City, a journey that took 3 days and nights by ship.
When he arrived in Makassar on August 19, 2014, he went directly to the Makassar Immigration office and asked for a place to stay. They had to be persistent and slept two days and nights on the street outside the office without any food. They were grateful when a passerby gave them some biscuits and water.
After two days, on August 22, 2014, they were moved to a temporary shelter and two months later, they were transferred to the Makassar Immigration Detention Center.
In November 2014, Murtaza was inside the Makassar IDC. He was 18 years old. Indonesian IDCs are dangerous places, particularly for younger residents who can face extortion, abuse and violence. Murtaza had committed no crime but was unable to challenge his detention and not allowed to leave.
“I was put behind barbed wire without doing anything wrong. Both physically and mentally we were kept in such a disturbing place. They put me in jail without any reason - which they named the IDC.”
Making the Most of It
Murtaza gradually adapted to the situation and made the best of it. He learned English and Indonesian. He did some translation work for the UNHCR and the IOM. He stayed active and participated in the handicrafts and classes.
On September 13, 2016 he was interviewed by the UNHCR and in late December 2016 he received official recognition from the UNHCR as a refugee. This designation allowed him to transfer to different accommodation in a house and he finally was allowed to move in March 2018.
It was a difficult transition, after being in the detention camp for almost 3.5 years. But he soon realized his newfound freedom was not the freedom he was hoping for.
Murtaza lives free of the detention camp but he still has many limitations on his life. He is not allowed to drive, work, or study. He is not allowed to travel. He is not allowed to become an Indonesian citizen.
There is limited medical support which is a huge problem as Murtaza has heart disease. He was being treated in Afghanistan but his condition has deteriorated in Indonesia due to lack of proper treatment and medication.
The UNHCR outlines two options for him - return to Afghanistan where he would face certain death, or stay living this purposeless life in Indonesia. But his third option is to find a group of citizens to bring him to Canada through the private sponsorship program.
“Sometimes I become hopeless and disappointed but I promise myself I will never give up. My years of detention have taught me that I have to be patient and struggle with adversity.”
There is Hope
We can be the change. As UNHCR refugee, Murtaza is eligible for Canada’s private sponsorship program.
Reach out and discover how wonderful it is to privately sponsor a good person to start a new life – with your help – in Canada!