the impossible refugee
It’s about a two-and-a-half-hour drive, normally, from Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta, to the southern coast of Java. In one of the many trucks that make the trip each month, loaded with asylum seekers from the Middle East and Central Asia, it takes a little longer. From the bed of the truck, the view is limited to a night sky punctuated by fleeting glimpses of high-rise buildings, overpasses, traffic signs and tollbooths. It is difficult to make out, among the human cargo, much more than the vague shapes of bodies, the floating tips of cigarettes. When you pass beneath a street lamp, though, or an illuminated billboard, the faces thrown into relief are all alive with expectation. Eventually, the urban pulse subsides; the commotion of the freeway fades. The drooping wires give way to darkly looming palms. You begin to notice birds, and you can smell the sea.
In September, in one of these trucks, I sat across from a recently married couple in their 20s, from Tehran. The wife, who was seven months pregnant, wore a red blouse stretched over her stomach; the husband a tank top, thick-rimmed glasses and a faux hawk that revealed a jagged scar (courtesy, he said, of the Iranian police). Two months had passed since they flew to Jakarta; this was their fourth attempt to leave. Twice, en route to the boat that would bring them to Australia, they were intercepted, detained and paid bribes for their release. Another time, the boat foundered shortly after starting out. All the same, they were confident this trip would be different. Like everyone else’s in the truck, theirs was a desperate kind of faith. “Tonight we will succeed,” the husband assured me. They were determined that the child be born “there.”
Read this NYT article, a cracker about travelling with asylum seekers from Indonesia, making the attempt to cross to Australia, written by Luke Mogelson and photos by Joel Van Hoedt. The writer and photographer travel with the asylum seekers, and depict the transit upclose with empathy and detail.
…and if you can bear it, afterwards watch this YT clip of Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison addressing new detainees (he requires public servants to refer to them as ‘unauthorized maritime arrivals’ in all communication) at Nauru, just over a week ago. As taken from local Nauruan TV.