Living in Limbo: The Asylum Problem

Post Date: Jul 25th, 2010 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

[From TIME magazine’s article, published July 5th, 2010]

Kaienat, the daughter of Sayed and Sayeeda, may have come into this world as a refugee. Haweeya, a 20-year-old woman from Mogadishu, Somalia, left the world as one. On a late-January morning in central Jakarta, a group of Somali men stood around her freshly dug grave in Karet Bivak cemetery, molding clumps of red earth to make a pillow for her head. A few women hung back and watched them lift her body, swathed in white, off a metal gurney. Three years ago, Haweeya, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, fled Somalia’s chronic internecine warfare and ended up in Indonesia, where she was granted refugee status by the small Jakarta office of the UNHCR. A childhood bout of polio had left her frail and on crutches. Her condition worsened in early January, and she was admitted to hospital. Before her doctors could figure out what was wrong, Haweeya died. The waiting place became, for her, the final resting place.

For millions of refugees and asylum seekers, surviving the crushing isolation of that wait is a daily feat. Before her roommate Haweeya was buried, 19-year-old Haboou Abdilahi sat outside the hospital morgue in a long black dress and headscarf. Abdilahi, who also has UNHCR refugee status, held her friend’s U.N. refugee card and paperwork in her lap, trying at the same time to pay respects while not looking at Haweeya’s corpse on a metal table six feet away, thin chin and shoulders jutting up from under the cotton shroud. When asked where in Jakarta she lived, Abdilahi replied, “Me and Haweeya live together.” A moment of confusion passed over her face and she shook her head. And then, “I live alone.”

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Time mag