THE NIGHT OF
ALI TANHA'S STORY
We are putting together a group to help this lovely young man come to Canada. His name is Ali Tanha, and he survived the ongoing genocide of the Hazara people, happening right now in Afghanistan. His father did not.
After fleeing from Afghanistan - a journey into darkness and back - he's struggling to get by as a refugee in Indonesia, a country where he is not allowed to go to school or work - or even talk to the locals.
Name: Ali Tanha
Profile: Hazara refugee living in Sidoarjo, Indonesia
Place of origin : Jaghatu, 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 friends: Nilson Peixoto, Stephen Watt
NOTE: Ali 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.
That Night of the Fire: The Night I Became a Refugee
I am Ali Tanha, a Hazara from Afghanistan. Like most Hazara, I have suffered from discrimination and persecution for most of my life. Returning to my home country is not an option for me. As you will see from my story, an accident one night in the mosque have led the Taliban and local Mullahs to believe that I am an infidel who must be killed.
I was born in a village in Jaghatu, Ghazni, Afghanistan. I have two brothers and two sisters, so a family of 7. I come from an ordinary family. When I was 7 years old, I began my primary school education.
When I was 14, I went to Iran illegally, with my father’s cousin. We stayed in Iran, working as embroiderers and tailors. I was also studying English privately in the home of another immigrant from Afghanistan. Sometimes I played football with other Afghani boys in a park near our home.
One day in 2012, a police car drove into the park as we were playing football. We tried to escape. Because we didn’t have any identity documents, we were jailed in a detention centre for a week. We were then sent to another detention centre near the Afghanistan border. We were there for another week and then deported to Afghanistan.
“We were jailed in a detention centre for a week.”
When I returned to my village, I was jobless. Some young men from my village asked me to help teach them English. I started as a volunteer English teacher, then found a job in the mosque, running the generator, which was necessary in a village with no electricity. I worked there for a year.
In early 2013, near sunset, I went to the basement of the mosque, where there was a big petrol container that fuelled the generator. The basement was dark, and I overloaded the container by mistake.
Not realizing what I had done, I took a bucket to bring water from the river near the mosque for people’s ablutions. When I arrived at the river, I heard an explosion. The mosque was on fire. Fortunately no one was inside the mosque at the time.
“When I arrived at the river, I heard an explosion. The mosque was on fire.”
People were gathered around the burning building. I was afraid and hid behind the trees near the river. I saw people brought some burned copies of the Quran from inside the mosque. The people were angry and shouted for me. I was afraid and escaped by running through the trees until I was sure no one could find me. I passed a lonely night among the trees.
"I passed a lonely night among the trees."
In the morning, before sunrise, I found a ride and escaped to Ghazni City. I went to a motel and called my father. He said after the explosion, they were looking for me. The local elders and mullahs came to our home, and said I was an infidel who deliberately burned the mosque (the house of God) and the Quran (the book of God). I must work for Christians and God knows what I taught to people under the excuse of teaching English. I must be executed immediately.
My father told me to stay in Ghazni to see what would happen. “The local elders and mullahs are very angry and trying to find you through the police or other ways.”
I was still in the motel around noon when my mother called me. She was crying and shocked, and said, “The Taliban came to our home to find you. They searched the house and found your identity paper. They slapped your father and took him with them.”
My mother told me not to return to the village or the Taliban would kill me. I found my life was in danger and I made a decision to escape from my country Afghanistan.
“My life is in danger and I made a decision to escape from my country Afghanistan.”
I talked with the owner of the motel and he found a people smuggler, who said that for $8,000, he would send me to Indonesia where I could be safe. There the UNHCR would give me support. I accepted the offer because my family had that amount from working in Iran.
I called my mother and asked her to send money as well as a copy of my identity paper. Through my sister’s husband, she sent me the money and identity paper as cash for extra expenses. My sister’s husband said the situation in the village was bad and there was no way for me to return.
I gave the money to the smuggler, who took my papers to arrange a passport. The next day he returned and asked what I had done wrong, because the government did agree to issue a passport. I explained to him what had happened and he said he would find a way. The next day he called me and said he had got the passport. I should be patient and not leave the motel until I left the country.
The smuggler returned and said I should get ready. He drove me in his car to the Kabul airport. He arranged everything. I got on the plane and flew to New Delhi, India.
India to Indonesia
I stayed in New Delhi, India for about 10 days. A few weeks later, I flew to Malaysia, where someone took me to a closed home. I stayed there for about 45 days with other asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan. We went to Indonesia by boat.
On November 2013, we arrived in Indonesia and were sent to Jakarta by airplane on the same day, a Saturday. The UNHCR office was closed.
My new friends and I went to Bogor City, located near to Jakarta, where we rented a home. A week later, we returned to Jakarta and went to the UNHCR office, where we registered.
I lived in Bogor with my friends for more than two months, until my money was finished. Asking around, I heard about an immigration office in Malang City, in East Java. In early 2014, I went to the office. They put me in jail. I know no one wants to be jailed without any crime but I had no choice because I was out of money.
“They put me in jail. I know no one wants to be jailed without any crime but I had no choice because I was out of money.”
A month later, I was transferred to Bangil Detention Centre near Malang City. When my friends discovered I am skilled in English, they asked me to help them improve their language skills. I agreed, since I had teaching experience in my own country, and gave lessons in my room. I was often asked to translate when people wanted to talk with the UNHCR, IOM, JRS staff and so on.
In October 2014, I was interviewed by the UNHCR, and in June 2015, I was officially recognized as a refugee and received my UNHCR refugee card. In July 2015, I was released from the detention centre to the accommodation house supported by IOM and located in Puspa Agro, Sidoarjo, East Java, Indonesia.
My life now
We receive about $90 allowance monthly, which is not enough for the cost of living. Most of us cook in our rooms. I miss my mother's cooking, and the food I make will never taste like hers.
After a while, my friends asked me to start teaching English again and I accepted. Unfortunately, as had happened before in the detention centre, I couldn't continue teaching because of my high stress levels and lack of concentration.
“I miss my mother's cooking, and the food I make will never tastes like hers.”
Instead I started sports again: walking, running, football, fitness and swimming to reduce my stress. I really enjoy helping people as much as I can. Most people know me as a phone repairman. I can fix most software problems on phones. I ask for nothing in exchange, except that they pray for me and my family.
Refugees are not accepted in this country, and we lack basic rights and protections. As a refugee, I am not allowed to work here, or study or to travel to another city. The support from the IOM is very limited, and there is a long wait to receive medical attention. The UNHCR told us that we should forget resettlement because it is very limited and it is not a refugee’s right.
“The UNHCR told us that we should forget resettlement because it is very limited and it is not a refugee’s right.”
There is no news from my father since he was caught by Taliban. I have too many worries about my family. Their situation in Afghanistan is getting worse and worse and I can't help them until I am settled out of Indonesia.
I want to work as an English teacher or as a phone repairman. I also have experience of working as a tailor and embroiderer. I just want a second chance.
The bottom line
If you'd like to know more about Ali, or become part of the effort to bring him to Canada, feel free to reach out to his friends in Toronto: Stephen Watt and Nilson Peixoto. And support his fundraiser! Help a good guy get a second chance!