Iraqi refugee's Australian dream finally comes true

News Stories, 25 September 2008

© UNHCR/A.Restu
Clearing security in Jakarta's airport, refugee Ihsan Abdulrassoul Hassoun is finally on his way to Australia, the country he had dreamed of for so long.

JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 25 (UNHCR) In the prison that was Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Australia shone like a beacon for Ihsan Abdulrassoul Hassoun. "I had a nephew who had emigrated there a long time ago and had been very successful," he explains. "All I could think about was that I wanted to go join him in Australia."

So strong was the impulse that he escaped from Iraq and paid smugglers to help him get to his dream country. Now, seven years after he set off illegally, Ishan has gone to live in Australia legally, thanks to the UN refugee agency and the Australian government's resettlement programme for refugees.

He left Iraq to save his life, fleeing persecution as a member of a religious minority after his brother was killed. Stopping briefly in Malaysia and Indonesia, he boarded a smuggler's boat bound for Australia in September 2001. The vessel was intercepted and turned back by the Australian Navy, and Ishan and his fellow passengers were taken to Lombok Island and then West Java.

Then followed seven years of limbo, during which Ishan learned to speak Bahasa Indonesia, but could not work legally or settle down in the local community. "During the past seven years I felt sad when I thought about my future life, even though the people around me were very nice," he said.

After going through the long process to get refugee status, Ihsan was included in UNHCR's humanitarian initiative programme, launched in 2005 by the refugee agency in cooperation with several countries to find durable solutions for long-staying Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Indonesia. Most of them have lived in the country for four to six years, cannot work, go to school, or settle down. Going back to their own countries is out of the question for now.

"Indonesia has been very generous in allowing refugees to stay temporarily, while we look for a more durable solution," said Robert Ashe, UNHCR's regional representative in Jakarta. "That solution has now been offered by Australia, a strong supporter of UNHCR's work both in financial contributions and in terms of providing resettlement opportunities to refugees from many parts of the world."

Ihsan, now 48, recently boarded a plane out of Jakarta, full of excitement about his new life in Australia. "Now, there's hope for my future life," he said. "I can now plan for my new life in Australia. I would like to learn English first, and then I will start to find a job next year."

But he's in no hurry to turn his back on Indonesia, a country that has been kind to him during his wait: "I will never forget Indonesia, someday I will come back to visit my friends in Indonesia."

By Anita Restu in Jakarta, Indonesia