ALONE AT 15
Name: Alex Smith
Profile: Hazara refugee from Afghanistan, living in Indonesia
Advantages: UNHCR certified, excellent English skills, a sponsor group in the Niagara region led by Wendy Noury Long
Risk: Detainment and death at the hands of the Taliban if returned to Afghanistan
The Opportunity: Private sponsorship to Canada
By 15, Alex Smith had lost his mother to illness and his father to an abduction and murder at the hands of the Taliban. He made the difficult journey to Indonesia, where he was promised a new life in a new country. That was six years ago.
This is his story.
Alex was born in 1999, to a happy family that included his parents, two younger brothers and a younger sister. They lived in Kamrak, Malistan, a rural village in the Ghazni region of Afghanistan. His father was employed by the National Army and worked away from home in Kabul. His mother worked at home.
Tragedy came early to Alex. In January 2012, when his was 13, his mother passed away. It was a devastating loss to the family, even as his father remarried, a woman that the children would come to love and respect.
In October 2014, his sister Shakila fell ill. Alex and his step-mother took Shakila to Shohada Clinic in Sang-e-Masha, Jaghuri on October 23. But the doctor was unable to help there and advised them to take her to Ghazni City for proper treatment.
Alex’ father was also headed to Ghazni City for work and agreed to meet them there. He contacted a driver from their area to take them to Ghazni.
The following day Shakila and Alex left for Ghazni City in the morning. There they met their father and took Shakila to a hospital known as Kolah Sabz. After seven days, the doctors said she was healthy enough to be discharged.
The day before they were to return home, Alex’ father asked him to get Shakila’s prescriptions filled at the drugstore. While he waited for the medications, a bearded man sitting in the store began asking about his father.
“He was scary and dreadful. I was utterly afraid.”
He asked for Alex’ name and his relationship to his father, his father’s occupation and his home in Kamrak. He even asked the route they took to Kamrak. Alex answered truthfully (“the Qara Bagh route”).
“I told him those things out of innocence and also because I was afraid of him.”
He meant to tell his father about the strange encounter, but forgot, being preoccupied by bringing his sister back home. Later it occurred to him that the man was either a member of the Taliban or a spy.
The next day, on October 30, 2014 they were scheduled to move back to Kamrak Malistan. In the morning, the car arrived with some other passengers already inside and they realized the car couldn’t accommodate the whole family.
His father and sister got in the car and suggested that Alex come later with Abbas, a driver they knew from Kamrak. They set out towards home while Alex remained in Ghazni City. Abbas planned to leave the next morning because there weren’t enough passengers that day to fill his car.
Later that night, Alex’ maternal uncle called and asked where he was. He said he was in Ghazni, in the Shafaq Hotel. When he asked about his father and sister, his uncle replied,
“Your sister is home but your father has been killed by Taliban in Dasht-e-Qarabagh.”
Shakila had escaped unharmed because a woman in the car had claimed she was her daughter. Otherwise the Taliban would have killed her too. Alex was devastated.
“When I hear my friends now talking to their mothers, my eyes tear up. I have no one, not even a mother or father.”
Alex was now in further danger. His uncle said when the Taliban were searching his father, they found his Tazkira (national identity card) along with his picture, and asked about him. They knew he had been in Ghazni with his father and now they wanted him next.
His uncle told Alex not to leave the hotel. He would order him a car to take him to Kabul. The next day a driver picked him up and dropped him off at the Qalb-e-Asia Hotel in the Kotte Sangi neighbourhood of Kabul.
He was still reeling from the news of his father’s murder and the fact that his own life was in danger. He also heard the news that his stepmother, out of fear, had fled the house, leaving his brothers and sister behind at the mercy of God.
The driver talked to the hotel owner, who said he knew someone who could get him out of the country to safety. His uncle agreed to pay the smuggler to get him out of Afghanistan. The smuggler took him to his house and there he waited for six days to leave the country.
“I was still a child. I was 15 years old.”
On November 6, 2014, he went to the Kabul airport and flew by Kam Air to Delhi, India. On November 13, 2014, he flew from Delhi via SpiceJet to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
From there, a smuggler took him to a secret place where he remained for four days. One evening, a group of them were squashed into a taxi to head to a coastal region called Banting. Around 9 pm on the evening of November 17, they embarked on a boat and made a journey by sea to Malaysia.
Early in the day on November 18, they reached Pekanburu on the Indonesian shores. On November 20 they left for Jakarta by car, arriving on November 23, 2014.
The next day, he approached the UNHCR office for registration.
“I arrived in Indonesia thinking the UNHCR would help me. I arrived with big hopes and dreams. I thought they would send me to a country with rights and justice and peace. My dream was to study and go to university, and to bring my family from their dangerous situation. But I was naive and wrong.”
The UNHCR could not provide food and shelter so he went to the city of Bogor and stayed there almost 3 weeks. On December 12, 2014, he left Bogor to go to Makassar by ferry. They were on the water for three days.
On December 15, 2014 he arrived in Makassar and handed himself over to the immigration head office, where remained for a month and 4 days. He slept on the street waiting to be registered.
On January 20, 2015 he was taken to an Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) where I lived for 13 months. When he first arrived at the IDC to register, the person responsible for checking him in slapped and kicked him.
“They had no respect or kindness for migrants. It was a difficult time there and I suffered from stress, depression and sickness. I was 15 years old, far from my family and alone.”
Finally the day arrived when Alex received his Refugee Status Determination (RSD) interview and soon he received his official refugee status from the UNHCR.
On February 22, 2016, he was released into an accommodation specifically for underage boys. Since then he has been living in community housing.
He was told by officials that underage refugees are a priority to be resettled in a third country. Yet six years later, he is still here.
“I lost my hopes and dreams. I am still young - just 20 years old. But I don’t know how long I will be able to live without a future or freedom.
An Impossible Choice
Still, his future in Indonesia is bleak. The UNHCR, which originally promised that the refugees in that country would be resettled, has reversed its position.
Refugees like Alex are offered two options: stay in Indonesia indefinitely, or go back to their home country. It’s a choice between a life of limbo, lacking the ability to have rights, live freely and contribute, or a return to persecution and death in Afghanistan.
There is Hope
His third option – the only decent one - is to find a group of citizens to bring him to Canada.
As a UNHCR refugee, Alex is eligible for Canada’s private sponsorship program.
This is a game changer, and Alex is eminently suited for the opportunity. He is a hard working, conscientious individual who is highly motivated to learn, volunteer and give back in his community. He has a gentle wisdom beyond his years from the adversity he has faced.
The Last Word
A wonderful private sponsor group is coalescing to bring Alex to Canada, led by Wendy Noury Long in Niagara Falls. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact her or Stephen Watt by Facebook.
Reach out and discover how wonderful it is to privately sponsor a good person to start a new life – with your help – in Canada!
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