"I CHOSE PEACE"
“I Chose Peace”: A Scholar and Humanitarian Needs our Help
Name: Rahmat R
Profile: Hazara refugee from Afghanistan, living in Indonesia
Advantages: UNHCR certified, excellent English skills, educated, experience as a teacher (at an orphanage), translator and volunteer
Risk: Detainment and death at the hands of the Taliban if returned to Afghanistan
Australian friend and fundraiser: Hollie Cassidy
Canadian contact: Stephen Watt
Fundraiser: Resettlement for Rahmat
When the Taliban came for his family, Rahmat was in the backyard playing with the farm animals, a child of 17. He jumped the fence and ran to save his life, the sole survivor of the massacre.
After taking a dangerous boat ride, he arrived in Indonesia, where he has lived for seven years. While life in detention has not been easy, he has done his best to strengthen himself, sharing his gifts as a teacher and translator. Officially certified as a refugee by the UNHCR, he can be privately sponsored by any group of five caring Canadians. This is his story.
Rahmat had a happy childhood. He grew up with his family, his parents and a sister, in a rural village called Qarabaghi in Afghanistan. The family had a small grape grove, and a small number of livestock. His father worked on building projects around the province.
To help his family and gain work experience, Rahmat joined in both activities. While he enjoyed working with his family, he wanted to go to university and learn English to better his chances of success.
In 2013, Rahmat moved to a different village called Nawabad to get a better education. He enjoyed learning, but different people spoke of rumours that Taliban were not happy with people taking foreign studies, viewing these activities as ‘haram’ or forbidden.
There were questions in the town about what Rahmat was studying. It became known he was happy discussing the world and different cultures. His views were evolving.
Running from Persecution
A love of learning and an open mind are risky assets in rural Afghanistan. The place where Rahmat’s family lived, near the city of Ghazni, was ruled and controlled by the Taliban and other religious radicals.
The Hazara people of the region have long been targets of persecution and massacres. The systemic discrimination has been a feature in Afghanistan throughout history and the ongoing genocide is still a cruel fact of life in this area.
One of the things that sets the Hazara people apart, beside their language, culture and religion (Shia, rather than Sunni Islam) is their stronger respect for education and the rights of women. As Rahmat says,
“The girls had no right to education. They were told that Muslim women must be obedient and stay at home. We were forced to learn from Islamic books only and forbidden to read or learn the lessons that had content like freedom, music and democracy.”
In a friend’s library in Nawabad, he read a book about female rights, and realised how the women in his country were deprived, powerless and often indoctrinated. His views put a wedge between Rahmat and those around him.
“My neighbour often asked me to go with him to the mosque to listen to the mullah preaching. I was open about being disgusted by the mullah spreading hate and bigotry; asking people to control women with extreme violence. I wondered why such brutality and ignorance could be considered the right path and lead us to heaven.”
Trouble was coming. Atheism and agnosticism are punishable by death in 13 countries, including Afghanistan.
Working with his Father
In late 2014, his father took a contract to build classrooms in a government school in Nawabad. He invited Rahmat to join him. The work was fair and honest, and they enjoyed working together on a place where young people would one day better themselves.
His father was approached by his brother-in-law (Rahmat’s uncle), who was concerned that the Taliban would discover they were sympathising with the government by working on their school. His father shrugged off the warning as an overabundance of caution, stating that he was just a mere builder and that the family needed the work.
“My father thought that there was not much risk. They would not find out about us anyway.”
Not long after the contact began, Rahmat and his father returned to their hometown for a short trip to visit the family. One evening while in Qarabaghi, Rhmat went to tend to and play with our animals in the corner of the backyard.
Around 9 pm, a noise came from the gate, which was thrown open in an explosion. What came next in his own words:
“I saw many men with their faces covered by turbans running toward the house with big guns. They wore long clothes and were shouting in the Pashto language. They were Taliban. Knowing there was nothing I could do to stop them, I jumped the fence and kept running.”
He ran for a long time, terrified that I had been seen. He arrived at the home of his aunt in a state of confusion, and told her and her husband what had happened. His uncle went to the family home, and came back to report the terrible news.
“My beautiful mother, father and 12-year-old sister had been murdered.”
His uncle noted that the killers had taken family photographs and other personal effects. This suggested that the Taliban knew there was a son they had missed in the massacre.
After two days, the uncle said he could not stay at their house, since the killers would be after him next.
A Forced Journey
The uncle brought him to Kabul, and told him to stay inside the room and not step outside without him. Their only visit was to a photo studio: only later did Rahmat realize this was to create a passport. After a week in Kabul he took him to the airport and told him where to meet people along the journey.
“In shock, confused, terrified and only 17, I could not even begin to conceive what was happening to me and what was yet to happen.”
His uncle arranged for him to leave the country, with India the first stop. The five days he stayed in India were an eye opener. After being taught his entire life that non-Muslims were infidels, he saw people living in peace and harmony.
“I realised humanity is beyond the religion, and that the clergies were just brainwashing us, spreading hate and toxic speech.”
Malaysia to Indonesia
After five days, he flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he was taken to an apartment with a crowd of other migrants. After six days, the smugglers told them to get ready for the coming night and because they would be moving by boat to Indonesia.
“Others told me: ‘You are a very young little boy. It’s dangerous for you in the sea so you must be careful. You might drown when we walk through the water.’ I was extremely anxious about the journey ahead.”
Late that night, they were taken to a dark forest on the edge of the sea. They rushed toward the water, people holding their bags high above their heads. Being young and small, the water reached his mouth while Rahmat struggled to get to the boat. He was helped in as the travellers said their prayers and set off for a stormy voyage over the water.
Several hours later, they landed on shore and made trek through the Indonesian jungle. Rahmat was barefoot, his feet cut and his clothes ripped and covered with mud and dust. The migrants were taken to a small house and then moved again to Jakarta.
“My head pounding, my life upside down, it was time to find out what life was going to be about.”
Looking for Refuge
He reported to the UNHCR office in Jakarta, but there was nowhere to stay. He slept in public places and stayed for a time with other refugees in a private residence. An unaccompanied minor, he lacked the money or security to eat, sleep or live.
He heard that Makassar, the island and city an hour’s flight from Bali that was known to have safe refugee accommodation. He reported to the immigration office and declared his need for asylum.
The officials took his money and phone, checked his belongings and walked him and other migrants a distance on a burning hot road, Rahmat on bare feet.
For three months, he and 200 other migrants stayed on the paths and grounds behind the building where the immigration staff worked, with no privacy, clouds of mosquitos in the air, and only cardboard as bedding. At night the security guards would harass the detainees, kicking them and demanding cigarettes and gifts.
“I had to come to terms with my trauma, my exhaustion and how I might get through this.”
Life in Detention
After 3 months, in January of 2015, Rahmat was transferred with others to the Makassar Immigration Detention Centre. Because the IDC building was full, with refugees sleeping in the halls, he was put in a tent.
“It was the hardest time of my life. This was a new chapter: facing fears, struggling to survive, becoming an adult.”
The building was no better. Barbed wire, massive black walls and no freedom. He suffered from depression, anxiety and frustration. He had no support networks and did not want to participate in the religious activities with the other men.
He spent three years there. During his time in detention, he made a decision. He would use his time to strengthen himself. He wanted to learn and help others.
“This time was not going to represent my destiny. My destiny depends on how I respond and react to this situation.”
Trying to use his time positively, he began to volunteer in teaching, using the language skills he had worked hard for. He served as a translator for other refugees to connect with refugee and support agencies, as by this point he could translate both English and Bahasa Indonesian.
He put effort into sport and exercise to combat his emotional distress. When people bullied him, mocking his frail appearance, he tried to use their abuse to become strong.
He took up an offer to teach English at a nearby orphanage. He went there three times a week. He was offered the opportunity to complete a teacher-training course and earned a certificate that helped his lessons.
“It felt amazing going to that place. Even for an hour, it gave me a true sense of fulfilment.”
When not volunteering, he read all he could. His private studies confirmed that he did not share the faith of most of the people around him. He faced abuse for his free thinking.
“I was not angry at these people. I could see that they knew no better. To these people, their faith was life or death, the latter the only way out. I chose peace.”
After three years in a cage, he was released in March 2018. Now in refugee housing, he lacks the rights and freedoms of an ordinary citizen. Like the other refugees in Indonesia, he has a curfew. He cannot travel or drive, his visitors are restricted, and he cannot contribute to society by working or studying.
Still, he tries his best to stay busy and positive.
“I have met many different people, both locals and refugees, who have helped me experience my new world. I enjoy the beautiful and fascinating differences of others. They should never separate or divide us.”
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 Rahmat 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.
“The fear of going back and the hope of a better future, of following my dreams, has given me motivation to struggle forwards from here, not backwards.”
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, Rahmat is eligible for Canada’s private sponsorship program.
This is a game changer, and Rahmat 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. As he says:
“Thank goodness for the country of Canada, which allows its citizens to get together to give refugees a safe place in society. While I have lived my short adult life in limbo, I believe but I have so much to give.”
“I have not found the help I need to find my forever home yet, but I know that there are people out there that can and will. I am looking forward to living a new life where I progress with acceptance, human values and an open mind.”
The Last Word
The wonderful private sponsor group is coalescing to bring Rahmat to Canada. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact Stephen Watt by Facebook.
If you would like to donate to his fundraiser to come to Canada - wherever you live - please visit his chuffed profile.
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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