He's a talented photographer whose work is featured in all the major stock photography websites. He's also a survivor of genocide and refugee living on $121 a month. He deserves better. We can help.

Name: Javed Najafi
Country: Ghazni, Afghanistan
Year of Birth: 1993
Profile: Hazara refugee and photographer living in Makassar, Indonesia for seven years
Risk of Return: Kidnapping, torture, death
Advantages: Talented professional photographer, full UNHCR refugee status


Growing Up a Refugee

Javed never had a chance to experience the peace and security of a normal childhood. He was the second of five children, with a mother who was a homemaker and a father who owned a hotel and sold vegetables from a cart. The father owned the hotel with his brother, in their hometown of Ghazni City, Afghanistan - and it made them targets of local Taliban extremists.

The attack on the hotel came in 1998, when Javed was five years old. His father was out of the building at the time. His uncle was not so lucky: he was tragically killed in the onslaught. And Javed’s father heard that the Taliban were after him next.

The family escaped to Quetta, Pakistan, where they lived the tough and dangerous life of being unwanted refugees. In this, they were following in the steps of countless other members of the Hazara people, who have suffered through horrific persecution and displacement for over five centuries.

In Pakistan, the family could enjoy a measure of security, but even here they were forced to live in a town surrounded by walls and checkpoints – ghettos introduced by the Pakistani government, ostensibly to protect them from attacks by militant groups in the region.

Tragedy Strikes

The danger hit close to home on February 16, 2013, when an explosion hit the Hazara area where Javed’s family lived. A bomb hidden in a water tank exploded in a market. The attack took place towards the end of the market day, as people were shopping for food and children were coming out of school.

“I was in my friend’s shop when the roof suddenly fell. The dust was everywhere and it was hard to see. I told my friend to run, thinking it was an earthquake."

"As we left the shop, we saw people running and others carrying bodies to the hospital. I rushed home to check on my family, who lived just three minutes away. I saw broken glass and dead bodies everywhere.”

When he came home, his sister said his mother was looking for him. Later that night, she came home and the family was reunited.

Others were not so lucky. Two hundred people were injured and 91 killed, all members of the Hazara community. An extremist group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility. It was the second major bomb attack on the Hazara people in Quetta in a month.

Fleeing to Safety

His family started making plans to get Javed to safety. On June 10, 2013, he took a bus to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. On June 19, he flew to Oman and on to Malaysia. Arriving in Kuala Lumpur, he spent 24 hours in a dark room, forbidden by the people smuggler from going outside.

The next day, he was picked up by car and taken to a location on the coast, where he and the other passengers were transferred under darkness to a crowded speedboat, for a dangerous ride to Indonesia.

After five dangerous hours on the rough seas, they arrived in Medan, Indonesia. While the agent had promised a flight to Jakarta, instead Javed and the other passengers were transported by bus, this time for a grueling four-day journey to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

“It was a difficult journey, and we should never forget our bad days. But from those days, we learn to struggle hard for our future.”

Struggling to Survive

The hotel where Javed was supposed to stay with the other migrants was swarming with bugs, so he kept moving, taking a bus with other new friends to Bogor, an hour from the capital. None of them spoke the local language, and were scared of being picked up by the police.

In Cisarua Bogor, Javed was taken by a new friend to his room near Britannia Market.

“I will never forget those days. Everything was new and exciting.”

In Detention

During the 11 months he stayed in Bogor, Javed was interviewed by the UNHCR to be registered as a refugee. The wait for news became acutely uncomfortable. Legally forbidden from working, he ran out of funds and was going hungry.

By April 7, 2014, when he flew to Makassar City to surrender himself to the immigration centre. It was not a friendly place.

“The moment I entered inside the vast yard of Immigration Office, I strange and a chill of unfamiliarity ran through my body.”

After a hostile interrogation, the immigration officers confiscated his possessions, including the last the money of his money, hidden in his bag. They stripped him down to his underwear.

After the search was over, they led him to a room where he was surprised to see a large group of newcomers, many of them, like Javed, from Afghanistan.

The Immigration Detentioni Centre in Makassar, Indonesia

For over a month they stayed together in crowded conditions, without proper food or even a place to sleep. They slept near the toilet, under a broken roof, so that the room flooded when it rained. On those nights, Javed would sit against the wall and try to sleep, or stare at the gap in the roof at the sky, and wonder how he had come to this place.

“I felt lost to my family, to reality, to my life. I was totally alone, without anyone who cared for me.”

Locked Up and Sick

What was coming was worse. On May 15, 2014, after 37 days in the immigration centre, he was taken with the others into the prison-like setting of a full detention centre. High walls covered in barbwire, gates with metal bars. Immigration officials who were armed guards. And again, no roof, just open air.=

The days and nights blended together. He developed an appendix infection and suffered insufferable nights of pain. One day he woke up and couldn’t move or touch his legs. He reported his illness and was told by the dismissive guards that he was making it up.

But finally his illness developed to a point where he could not move. He was brought by ambulance to a hospital. After the operation, the doctor showed him the organ he had removed and said,

“I have never seen such a big appendix. It is full of poison. You had just a 50/50 chance of surviving this.”

After a week, he was brought back to the detention centre, where his friends took care of him. They cooked for him, bathed him, and took care of him. He realized he had friends after all, and hoped one day to return their kindness.

Tasting Freedom

Finally his luck turned for the better. On July 19, he was finally released from the detention centre and was set free into Makassar City. After months of isolation, the busy city was a shock, but it was a good one.

“I was able to see the magic of the outer world with my own eyes again.”

He felt he needed to make up for lost time. He devoted himself to taking online courses that would allow him to share his visual sense with others, to show them what he saw in his adopted home. They included

  • The Final Capstone Project, a seven-month long class from Michigan State University

  • A certificate in graphic design from California Institute of the Arts

Within a few months of completing his first course, his pictures were being accepted by some of the world’s top online photography galleries.

NOTE: Feel free to purchase any image that captures your imagination, since this is how Javed pays for his equipment and makes a living beyond the very meager funds provided by the UNHCR.

A big honour came when he was recently asked to accompany the mayor of Makassar and photograph the ‘Morning Ride’, a charitable event. On another occasion, he was sponsored by the tourism board of Makassar to visit nearby Selayar Island, to photograph the landscape and cultural events there. For a refugee who could be detained for even interacting with a local citizen, these were for Javed moments of genuine pride.

"When I see the breathtaking scenes, landscapes and locations around me, I am so steeped and profoundly moved by shooting pictures that I forget the risks. Nothing means more than photography to me. It is my passion, my vision and my inseparable part."

His life now

The life of a refugee in Indonesia is not easy. The UNHCR, which originally had promised to settle the refugees in Indonesia in other countries announced two years ago that it has no plans to do so.

Javed lives in basic UNHCR housing, with 21 refugees from around the world sharing a single kitchen. Each is given $121 Canadian a month, which even by local standards is well below the poverty line. They are not legally permitted to work, leave the city, enter a car or motorcycle or stay out past curfew, at dinnertime.

The punishment for doing any of these things is to be locked up again in immigration detention.

Dreams of the Future

Still, his hope and optimism remain strong. Javed dreams of a better life in a safe and welcoming country like Canada, where he can finally make a living from his gifts and build a lasting career – and life.

The dream lies within reach – with your help. Since he is officially certified as a refugee by the UNHCR – unlike the vast majority of the world’s refugees – Javed qualifies for Canada’s private sponsorship program.

You can also reach out to Javed directly on Facebook. And visit his YouTube channel and Wordpress gallery to see more examples of his terrific work.

Reach out and discover how wonderful it is to privately sponsor a good person to start a new life – with your help – in Canada!

“There is so much difficulty in being a refugee. It’s a life of limbo, of endless anxiety and uncertainty. There are moments when the disappointment makes you want to give up on humanity. But we have to be strong, make the best of our limited opportunities, and commit to our dream of the future.”