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Refugees Improve English Skills While Waiting for Resettlement

FILE - An ethnic Hazara man looks out from behind a glass panel at a temporary shelter in Karawang, Indonesia's West Java province.
FILE - An ethnic Hazara man looks out from behind a glass panel at a temporary shelter in Karawang, Indonesia's West Java province.
Refugees Improve English Skills While Waiting for Resettlement
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For many refugees around the world, boredom is a fact of life.

While the United Nations High Commission on Refugees – or UNHCR – works on resettling them, they wait. And wait. And wait. They cannot work, enroll in a school or travel.

In 2014, several Hazara refugees in Indonesia found a way to spend their time. They created an informal school for children: the Refugee Learning Center, or RLC.

Asad Shadan is one of the founders of the RLC. He left Afghanistan after the Taliban threatened his family.

Shadan says that starting the school was a difficult process: "We asked the UNHCR to help us with some kind of educational program for three months, but after getting no response, we decided to just go for it and started a class on our own with 18 kids."

The school's website describes how the local and international community came together to help it grow.

An Australian couple paid the rent for the school. Parents gave $2.50 each to pay for carpet, whiteboards and other teaching materials. Women in the community volunteered to teach.

The program, originally an informal class, has grown into a six-room school with classes for adults and children.

The program, Shadan explains, grew quickly. "Within six months we had 100 children enrolled, and now we have 200 students and 16 teachers. It gives all of us something to do."

Thanks to donations over the past couple of years, RLC now has a library, English classes and an indoor football league.


For years, Indonesia has hosted refugees. It is part of a transit route for refugees and migrants going to Australia.

But, Shadan says, “the Indonesian government pretends that we don't exist.”

Indonesia has never signed the UN Refugee Convention, and it offers no formal rights to asylum seekers and refugees.

In addition, the Australian government's 2013 decision to cut the number of refugees it admits – in addition to turning away ships carrying migrants – has created a backlog of refugees in Indonesia.

The UNHCR reports currently almost 14,000 refugees and asylum-seekers live in Indonesia. Around half of these come from Afghanistan.

Building skills for the future

While waiting for resettlement, the students at RLC are trying to build skills.

They like to think about the future. "What we want to avoid is that, once resettled, we don't have any skills, or that kids have been wasting their formative years of their education," says Shadan.

Although English is not the native language of the refugees, many speak English very well. "We have a lot of time to practice," jokes Shadan.

Some of the refugees are being resettled, but very slowly.

Masoma Faqihi, a 20-year-old, said her family of six have finally received approval to go to the U.S., after more than three years in Indonesia.

"I like teaching at the school here but I'm just about done with school for myself, I think," she said. "I heard you can do anything in America, though, so really, I want to be a makeup artist. Wish me luck."

I'm John Russell.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

Krithika Varagur wrote this story for VOA News. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

boredom – n. the state of being tired and annoyed

resettle – v. to begin to live in a new area after leaving an old one

donation – n. something (such as money, food, clothes, etc.) that you give in order to help a person or organization

migrant – n. a person who goes from one place to another especially to find work

backlog – n. a large number of jobs that are waiting to be finished