TEACHER, HEALER, REFUGEE:
ALI REZA'S STORY
After barely escaping an ambush from the Taliban, Ali Reza fled to Indonesia, where he was placed in refugee prison.
Yet his love of learning and helping others remained strong. While still in detention, he started a program to lift up his fellow refugees – even as his own choices remained limited.
A person of his gifts deserves a second chance in Canada. We can help.
Name: Ali Reza Nazari
Profile: Hazara refugee living in Tanjung-Pinang, Indonesia
Place of origin : Jaghuri, Ghazni, Afghanistan
Risks: At risk of being caught and killed by Taliban if being returned to Afghanistan.
Needed : Five people to serve as private sponsors in Canada
Canadian friend: Stephen Watt
NOTE: Ali Reza has been officially certified as a refugee by the UNHCR, which means he qualifies for Canada's private sponsorship program. (Canada is the only country in the world that double screens its refugees). Have you seen the joyous pictures of refugees arriving at the airport, ready to call Canada home? Well, this is how it starts.
This is Ali’s story, in his own words.
Who am I?
My name is Ali Reza Nazari; I am 23 years old, born on January 1, 1996, into an ordinary family in Jaghuri, Ghazni of Afghanistan.
It was a life born in the flame of war, in an area where fear and danger stalked me for many years. The reason: my family belonged to the Hazara ethnic group, which in Afghanistan made us a target for persecution and brutality. Hazaras are the third minority group and subject to the systematic attempts at ethnic cleansing in Afghanistan.
Despite that, I had my dreams. I was passionate about learning, reading and writing. My hope was to work hard to achieve a positive future.
“No matter how tough my life goes on and how many challenges I might face, I was committed and believed, that I am going to turn my life around.”
My dad was disabled and had a life of bed rest and making ends meet to afford basic life expenses. Despite my love of learning, after finishing the ninth grade I realized I had to leave school in order to take my dad’s place and work to take care of my parents and rescue my siblings from poverty.
What happened to me?
When I was 18, despite having to leave school, I was still a happy guy, proud of taking care of my family. I owned a grocery shop and after 6 months I signed a contract to deliver the groceries to the local police stations and other sub-district government offices.
This is where the trouble started. Over time I was threatened and searched by the Taliban troops who saw the police and government as the enemy. It became clear that I had to surrender to the Taliban troops or would be kidnapped and killed by them.
The day arrived. I was singled out by the Taliban at Dashti-Qarabagh, the dangerous area located midway from Ghazni province and my hometown. I was labeled someone who cooperates with military and police, helping those fighting against Taliban.
Luckily I suspected the danger beforehand and avoided the ambush, but my truck driver, who was transporting the goods between cities and my hometown, was caught and murdered by Taliban the same day.
A father, whose beautiful children were waiting for their father to return home. My driver could not prove that he was innocent, and the Taliban beheaded him, considering him to be my business partner.
“I never thought or imagined, that they would kill my driver because of me, if I had, then I would never allow that tragedy to occur.”
Before dying, he was forced to disclose my location. The truck full of the grocery supplies was burned, and that day I received a phone call from a Taliban agent after they had killed my driver. I was immersed in fear and had no idea of what to do to rescue myself.
I had no choice but to abandon my motherland with all my childhood memories and seek asylum and safety somewhere in the world, where I could be far away from the nightmares and from injustice, discrimination, cruelty and persecution. I decided to abandon Afghanistan.
One of the hardest and heaviest feelings for me was letting my parents, especially my mom, know my decision, as she was suffering from heart disease. Saying farewell with her, and I had no idea of where and how long I would go for, was a like a nightmare.
“It was the most heartbreaking time of my life.”
After two days I took a truck from Ghazni to Kabul, where I hid in a house in the suburbs. As I had never been in that city before, I was in a state of fear of being caught and further persecuted.
With the help of some friends, we made a plan to get me out of Afghanistan. I called my father and asked him to sell anything he could to provide me about $5,000, so I could get out of the country as soon as possible to save my life.
After a few days I flew from Kabul to Delhi India, I had no idea of what my final destination would be. After passing three days in India I was sent to Malaysia by plane. From Malaysia I went to Indonesia by boat.
I approached the dreadful and stormy water at midnight into the dark night, I was forced by unknown men who were smugglers to enter the water and walk for 100 meters to reach the boat.
Getting on that fragile boat, I was afraid to look around at the angry ocean. I hid my head between my knees and clung to the boat’s edge as tight as I could with my weak hands and tired body for three hours. I was freezing, as we were travelling at a high speed and it was raining heavily that night.
“It was the first time in my life on a boat. Seeing the horrifying and furious motion of water, crashing at the edge of the ocean, I was numb with fear, and prayed for my survival. I assumed that it was the end of my life. It was an ocean crossing that had taken the lives of hundreds of asylum seekers before.”
Finally we arrived at the Indonesian shoreline, a place called Pekanbaru. From Pekanbaru we were driven for nearly 60 hours and barely allowed stops to buy food or drink.
Life in Detention
After a few days I arrived in Jakarta Indonesia, I registered with the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). I was told to wait at least one and half or two years to get my interview, when I would either be accepted under UNHCR rules for asylum seekers – or not.
I had nowhere to stay and nobody to live with, so on October 28, I decided to submit myself to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC). The IDC is located in suburb of Balikpapan, a city in the north Kalimantan island of Indonesia. It was a building designed for criminals and those who commit serious crimes.
“The limbo, that I started the new chapter of my life inside, was unpredictable, but the only thing I was sure, that I was safe from persecution and being killed.”
Living more than three and half years in this state of uncertainty had its own challenges and difficulties. These ranged from getting terribly sick for one month, an illness that comes from a crowded area where is high humidity and lack of adequate sunlight or clean atmosphere.
We also had to contend with poor medical care, lack of proper food and drinking water, the horrible treatment of security guards, interrupted by demonstrations, hunger strikes and protests for our basic human right and freedoms. Still II never allowed myself to surrender my goal of helping others.
I arrived in Indonesia with a no English language skills, which caused me challenges and misunderstandings during my trip from Kabul until Jakarta. By the time I reached Indonesia, I realized that knowing English was the most important skill for my life and future.
I started by finding a blue broken pen, collecting the breakfast’s paper boxes, forming them as a notebook and asking a friend who had some basic English knowledge. I started from ABC forward.
In spite of the tough and stressful situation that I was surrounded by and due to the lack of proper educational methods, I Immersed myself in learning. I also started reading books and acquiring other skills and local wisdom that would help me adapt to my new pace of life.
I also did regular physical exercise to release my stress and read self-help and motivational books to help myself and my friends to stay positive. I started helping my friends to improve their English skills and speaking confidently alongside my own classes and learning schedules.
After 2 years of working hard I got the first place of public speaking among 250 immigrants and nearly 20 participants, held by the IOM. This honour gave me motivation and inspiration to work even harder than before.
“By the end of 2017 I was running 5 classes, 40 students and 5 days a week.”
Over one and half years I helped nearly 100 immigrants to improve their English language and helping them stay motivated and productive despite living in limbo.
Liberty in Limbo
Luckily on early 2018 I was released from this detention. I was transferred to the Tanjung-Pinang community house, located in Bintan Riau Island in Indonesia.
“I was happy, yet crying for those who were left behind, and for the amazing and unforgettable days and memories we had shared together.”
Arriving at the community house, where I still live, was another opportunity to take one step toward becoming better for myself and other fellow refugee friends. It has not been easy. We are forbidden from receiving formal education, from healthcare, from conducting work or business. We cannot drive or even venture outside the town limits.
“More importantly, we cannot settle in Indonesia, no matter how long we stay. We are like unwanted guests in this country, which never signed the 1951 UNHCR convention. Still, I always appreciate the humanity and kind hearts of the Indonesians.”
Life as an Educator
Since February 2018, I have dedicated myself to learning and helping fellow refuges from different backgrounds – from Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan – to learn language and other social and occupational skills. It was not long after I started that I realized the students had no motivation to learn.
“Based on my experience of education back in Balikpapan, I designed a brand new learning method designed to provide a more fun, inspiring and indirect approach to learning English.”
The approach was successful, and as of January 2020, we graduated 50 students at the intermediate level of English These students are able to interact and communicate their thoughts fluently in this global language.
I also helped create a platform to inspire refuges for reading self-help books that are both eye-opening and inspiring. With my volunteer team, we have attracted 40 refugees into a program of reading books and discuss their ideas with the group.
In addition to this work, I have served as a volunteer translator, community representative and speaker, and joined a number of activities hosted by the IOM.
I am sharing my story with you in hope of finding sponsors in Canada, and the required funds to sponsor me. All it takes is for five caring and kind-hearted people to get together and decide to bring me to Canada where I can take the first steps toward a new life.
My dream is to start again in a country where I can escape discrimination and injustice, a place where my voice be heard and not see any nightmare of threats, persecution and torture.
I think I could bring a lot of initiative and positive change to a country that gives me a chance. Canada, for me, is a place where humanity is cherished and human rights are shared equally by every citizen, regardless of who they are and where they have come from. I am sure it’s possible in Canada and with your help and kindness, it can happen.