Surviving as a refugee becomes more testing during pandemic

More than 200 refugees and asylum seekers sheltering in a rundown military command headquarters in Kalideres, West Jakarta, remain as isolated as ever.

This is despite the surrounding residential areas returning to life with the gradual lifting of the city’s coronavirus restrictions.

It is a very contrasting world divided only by the fence between those who have set up their temporary homes in small dome tents in the deserted compound and those living in the middle-class residential area.

The lives of the former remain in a state of indefinite uncertainty awaiting permanent resettlement to a third country. The pandemic has been making the situation worse as refugees have had to resort to their own means to isolate themselves and prevent the vulnerable group from contracting the disease.

“Nothing has changed for us. Our situation as a whole is really different than the outside world,” a refugee community spokesperson, Hassan Ramazan, said on Friday.

“We are still locking our doors and we don’t ease our restrictions. The situation around the camp is more crowded now but we are more careful than before.”

The community decided to isolate itself after hearing on the news that there were 20 people infected with the disease in the Kalideres area at the beginning of the pandemic.

“The main gate is locked, and we only open the small gate that we take turns to guard to prevent people coming in as we isolate ourselves because of the coronavirus,” Ramazan said during a visit to the camp in May.

Refugees have been living in the camp since July 2019. Initially, hundreds of refugees were taken to the temporary shelter, but the Jakarta city administration ordered them to leave the building by August 2019. Some have left while others stayed behind — 245 people from 28 families, 40 children, and single men such as Ramazan. There are also three septuagenarians and two people who are in the sixties. Most of them are Hazara people from Afghanistan, along with a few Iraqis. Four babies have been born during this time at the Kalideres camp.

Electricity and running water are scarce. Even the street lights outside, which provided some lighting to the parking lot, were turned off in the evening, Ramazan said.

“Our lives depend on donations to keep the water and electricity running and assistance comes in occasionally and irregularly. We could have water and food enough for certain days until the next donations come again,” he said.

There were days when donations came in the form of a prepaid electricity token, so the people could have electricity for a certain time. However when the token ran out, and until another was donated, they could be left with no electricity at all for days, Ramazan said.

International agencies had visited the camp informing the inhabitants about social distancing guidelines at the beginning of the pandemic and sprayed disinfectants in the building.

“But that’s it. They told us to wash our hands but they don’t provide us with water. They told us to stay home but where is home for us?” Ramazan said.

Read the full story in Arab News

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