Refugee Children Have a Right to Protection

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
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A refugee child is coloring pictures

“A child so little is fighting with time. For the sake of a dream that often disturbs its sleep. A child so small has no opportunity to enjoy time, forced to break rocks, clenching its limp fingers.”

The lyrics of Iwan Fals song “Sore Tugu Pancoran” crossed my mind when I got home after visiting one of the Sri Lankan family who lived in a rented house on the outskirts of Jakarta. Harshan Chandra lives with his wife and two children. It’s been almost a year and a half since the family arrived in Indonesia after a harsh journey by boat from Sri Lanka, through Malaysia.

Chandrika their first born is now 12 years old and one of the many refugee children who are deprived of the excitement and joy of playing and learning in a school like other children. At present she and her brother had to seek refuge together with her parents to ensure their lives are safe and peaceful.

Travelling on this path, perhaps an unexpected journey never imagined before. As a child, she imagined the journey like a vacation; a boat ride, fun and full of adventure. In reality the trip was an exhausting evacuation, full of risks and dangers, leading to the family to run out of food and money to survive.

Initially, the family was very hesitant to accept my arrival at their rented house. We had never met before. After introducing myself I show her the medication I brought for her father, which made Chandrika happy, “Oh yes, medicine for father. Thank you sir.” The atmosphere soon turns relaxed when Harshan Chandra invited me to come in and sit down, while waiting for his wife make coffee.

Harshan Chandra suffers from a heart disease and asthma. JRS helps to provide the needed medications. Every month, JRS delivers medicine into his rented house. Asylum Seekers and Refugees are vulnerable with limited access to health services. For children like Chandrika, JRS organizes English classes where they can learn and play together with their peers. It is one way of opening up access to education for children displaced with their parents.

Chandrika is very happy and keen to learn English. Because of this, she often helpes becoming the translator in conversations with her parents, occasionally she also mixes in Indonesian words.

“Besides English, Chandrika also learns Indonesian?” I asked her. “Yes I speak a little Indonesian. I love learn with friend,” she replied in broken Indonesian.” You also stay in Bogor, sir?” she continued. “No, I stay in Yogyakarta, it is another place,” I replied. “Oh okey. Jogja far from Bogor?” She asked again. “Yes, take the train or bus for about ten hours. It is about ten hours by train or bus,” I replied. “Wow, ten hours is very far, sir,” she said nodding. Not long after her mother came in with a cup of coffee, politely inviting me, “Please sir, drinking coffee,” pointing to a cup of coffee that is presented on the table.

Chandrika is one of about 2,652 refugee or asylum seeking children in Indonesian. 908 of whom are unaccompanied or separated from their families. Being forced to leave their own country, they lose the right to an education. Prone to be caught and locked up in immigration detention centers not suitable for children, prone to be misunderstood without help and protection.

These children are now present in our midst. They may still face a long journey full of uncertainty, moving from one place to another. Children who were forced to evacuate, have a right to get help and protection so that they still have a future, as stated in Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was agreed by the United Nations on November 20, 1989.

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