It was just like any other day, I went to a press conference at LBH Jakarta who have just "inaugurated" 110 paralegals.
One of the people at LBH Jakarta asked me if I would like to meet with the asylum-seekers living in Puncak. I was like "Bingo!". I accepted immediately and we left for Puncak about a week later.
Little did I know, that the plight facing these asylum-seekers is a complicated one. Before rounding off my writing I became overwhelmed by the facts and stories that unfold in front of me.
It was difficult indeed to try to summarize everything in 1,500 words. The original version was 1,800-ish and I already had to discard about 30-40 percent of the materials. This is the link to the story, 1,500 words edited by the wonderful Hayat Indriyatno.
In the story only mentioned very little about the three families whom I saw that day, so I decided to write the rest here.
1. The Mazraehs
The Arabic Mazraeh (alternative spellings: Mazrae or Mazra/a) clan is pretty well-known in Iran to be politically active in the struggles for the Arab minority. For those who don't know, the majority race in Iran is Persian with Shia being the prominent denomination. Which is interesting, because apparently it was the Shia/Persians who are oppressing the Sunnis there. While here it's the other way around.
I met Amir and his family, who managed to fled to Indonesia via Dubai in 2010, in their rented 3-bedroom home in Cisarua area. We had to pay Rp 2,000 before entering the residential complex, I guess it's because we had come with a car. Others who went by motorbikes were not charged, which is weird anyway, because it's not a tourist area.
Amir's brother, Mahmoud Mazraeh made his way to UK as a political asylum in the 1990s and found the Ahwazi Arab People's Democratic Popular Front (AAPDF). Before that, two of his brothers were also executed.
The 54-year old however managed to maintain his calm, politely refusing to tell me the complete story of his escape, and referred me to his lawyers (people from LBH Jakarta) about it.
Amir has little understanding of English, without a translator my interview would had been in jeopardy if not for his 11-year old grandson, Fauzi, who is surprisingly fluent in both English and Indonesian.
"Ada masalah [There was a problem]," his grandson said, when I asked Amir of the reason why he fled.
Amir and his oldest son, Tohir, were subject to arrest and torture until in 2009 when they joined a demonstration protesting the election of Ahmadinejad, the threats increased. A week after he flew out of Iran, the government tried him in-absentia and sentenced him to 16 years.
Few weeks later Amir was joined by his wife, Tohir, his youngest daughter, Aminah and her two children.
Aminah is in late 20s or early 30s, and left to take care of her two children alone since her husband died in 2005 after being arrested and tortured.
Her eyes welled up when I asked what was it that she miss the most.
"My work, my city, my friends and my siblings," she said, adding that they have left two brothers and a sister in Iran.
"I want them to join us soon," she said.
The home of the Mazraeh has a small fish pond and a big stove for baking pita breads. Amir said they help the family kill time.
"My wife cooks and I fish, or play football with friends. Or read the Koran, I am more religious now," he said with a smirk.
As an asylum-seeker, none of these people are allowed to work, or get education.
Fauzi and his younger sister Anna, who is 8, preferred to go to an internet cafe, or watch television. Which is how they learn the languages.
I asked him if he like it here, he said, "No. Ngga suka."
Fauzi said that he keep the family in touch with other relatives via Facebook. He would upload pictures and send messages through it.
I learned from Amir that the Iranian Arabs are not allowed to speak their language, dress up like one, and other means of cultural expression.
2. Yunus' story
Yunus is the opposite of Amir, he is vibrant and fiery, recounting his tales of struggle in Ahwaz, Iran. He's been put under arrest, solitary confinement, but he also managed to flee with his wife and three children.
Like the Mazraeh kids Yunus' are also fluent in Indonesian. One girl, Sofia, 10, even told me that she wanted to learn English properly. Because the only education that they're receiving is a two hours session of English in a crowded class room per week.
"Banyak anak nakal," she said.
Yunus house is smaller than Amir's, and more open. I guess this is why the family has been having health complaints.
"It's too cold here for us," Yunus said.
At Yunus' house I began to notice that it was the second time of the day that we were offered instant coffee mix. (Later when we went to the third house, we were AGAIN offered with the same drink)
Rambutan came next, so I asked them if those were their favorites, they said yes.
"We love the fruits here, Mangoes, avocado, are expensive in Iran, but here no. I even like Durian," Yunus smiled.
Well isn't that a relief :)
3. The Mother and Her Daughters
The last family I visited are the Mazbans. Well actually the mother, Afwah, is married to Amir's older brother so their daughters are Mazraeh. But I don't want to create confusion, so.. :p
According to an officer from JRS who accompanied me, women and her children are prioritized. Which is why Afwah and her daughters decided to go on their own to Indonesia.
Afwah herself is a Persian, and her marriage had caused her trouble. Her family shunned on her and on the other hand she was not completely accepted by the Arabs in her neighborhood.
One of her daughters, Khadija, who is just two years younger than I am, was at one point arrested for six days after joining a demonstration, and refused to ever told her mother nor sisters on what happened.
To UNHCR she only attested that she had heard women screaming and raped, and that every day she was in fear aside from being deprived from food.
"My mother and my sister can't barely walk," the oldest daughter, Afika, told the JRS officer.
She said her mother has a knee and back problem and need to see a physiotherapist, while Khadija needs a crutch to be able to stand. Afika also said that her sister had had diarrhea for about a month when she first arrived.
"We don't like the clinics here, they're useless," Afika said.
She spilled her heart out, on dealing with the cold, missing her children, and concerns about the health of her mother and sister over our third instant coffee for the day. Well, actually for me it's the fifth. I had one for breakfast and another one when we stopped at a stall before going to the Mazraehs.
Afika's hands were also never far from her praying beads, after the complaints she retorted praising to God because the lawyers of LBH Jakarta had helped them in their appeal to UNHCR.
The JRS officer promised her that they will take them to a good doctor soon but she needs to check with UNHCR and IOM for the funds.
So we bid our good byes, the day was getting late and all of us were hungry (we skipped lunch btw). I prayed for the families to leave this place soon and re-join their relatives.
Spending time with them surely felt other-worldly and wonderful at the same time. As they recounted their stories, I could picture one by one the scenes from Persepolis.
There was this one sentence from Mayong, one of the public lawyers at LBH Jakarta, that struck me:
"A minority in one place will become the oppressor in another place when they are the majority. Suppressions should not be a reason to oppress others, but to be better."