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Ehsanullah Sahil, a refugee from Afghanistan who is being held at the Balikpapan Detention Center in Indonesia report on the ongoing protests against miserable conditions at the center

Story Transcript

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada.

In October 2001, the United States launched a war on Afghanistan under the moniker Operation Enduring Freedom. That war is now in its 17th year, and there is no end in sight. America’s Afghan war has produced a refugee population of stunning proportions. In June 2013, the United Nations reported that a total of six million Afghan refugees were hosted in Pakistan and Iran, making Afghanistan the largest refugee-producing country in the world; a title held for 32 years. Ninety-five percent of Afghan refugees are located in Iran and Pakistan, but a relatively small proportion have managed to escape to countries further afield than those two countries. That has not necessarily meant, however, that they fared any better than the millions of Afghans who are trapped in Iran and Pakistan.

One of those Afghan refugees is currently interned in a detention centre in Indonesia called Balikpapan. His name is Ehsanullah Sahil. Six weeks ago the Real News published a report on the Sahil’s ongoing ordeal, and on peaceful protest by detainees at the Balikpapan detention centre. Today we are joined again by Ehsanullah to learn about how conditions at the detention centre have evolved in the past few weeks. Thank you so much for joining us again, Ehsanullah.

EHSANULLAH SAHIL: Thank you, sir.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, Ehsanullah, let’s begin by talking about the size of the detainee population at Balikpapan. Has, have any of the people who had been interned there six weeks ago been released since we last spoke to you? And if so, how many have been released?

EHSANULLAH SAHIL: Okay. [inaudible] from Balikpapan detention centre. Since you, where you got an interview from me. And there were like 69 people who were released from here. And they were divided in three groups, and each groups like the 20, 22 people. And they released to two island. Here is one is Tanjung Pinang. Another one is Batam. One group was released in Tanjung Pinang, and two groups went to the Batam island. And to one underage with his brother and one of my friends here was sick, and they released him to the office here in Balikpapan.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So how many people remain incarcerated at the Balikpapan detention center today?

EHSANULLAH SAHIL: Right now we are in here like 72, sir.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And at the time we spoke to you six weeks ago, there had been daily protests going on for approximately 100 straight days. Have those daily protests continued? And, and how have the-. If so, how have the authorities at the detention center responded to them since we last spoke to you?

EHSANULLAH SAHIL: Yes. For the last time when we spoke and now our daily protests have been continuing till now. Today was day 150 from our peaceful protest. Regularly every day we come together. Before it was inside the [inaudible] we came together in front of the [inaudible] immigration. So we call for their freedom. We want justice. We are human, and we want our right. We are human. So we’re just continuing our protest every day regularly. And it was in [inaudible] June. Every day the authorities from organized, many organizations, like especially from [inaudible] and they are responsible for helping the refugees inside that detention center.

They just came over and they said, OK, be patient. And we are going to process your documents, and we are working on your releasing. But nothing get changed. Because we are the longest refugees around Indonesia. We’re detained and we have staying inside [inaudible]. And it was in 7 June, more than 100 security guards, they entered inside the [inaudible]. It was for the first day, and they were asked for which purpose they come inside. And they just entered and everyone, they secured each blocks, and they stood guard, like two, three guards in front of each block doors. And first they clean inside the [inaudible] and where we are living, and then they locked the doors, and they start searching our rooms. And they got everything we have for cooking, for washing, and there was nothing left we have to cook the bread and wash our dress. And they just locked up and picked up some of our [cables for tying some planks].

Then every time they came inside and they asked from us, OK, stop your protest, and don’t do the protests anymore. And then we decide, OK, and they come in here, like I said, more than a hundred security guard they come. And they just got our everything. And we decide to come out of our rooms, and we come in front of the immigration office right now where the people are sleeping here. It is that one week that we’ve come out. And the people are sleeping here in the break. And the tile here is no mattress, no pillow, no blanket. And it is one week we didn’t take shower. There is no shower. And we are not allowed to use a cell phone. And it is more than five months. We are not allowed to receive any money. We are not allowed to receive [balance] and we are not allowed to receive money. So we just have contact with our friends there and outside, and they send us [balance] and we buy a package, and we use that in here right now. I am speaking with you, just I charged my phone, and I tried to find a way with the neighbours, through the people coming here. And legally we are not allowed to charge our phone. No one is allowed to charge their phone.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Do you believe-. It sounds as though, and is this your belief, that the authorities at the detention center have taken these harsh actions in order to deter further protest by the inmates? Is that what’s going on here?

EHSANULLAH SAHIL: Yes, because they were not agreeing with our protests, and many times they ask, OK, you’re doing your protest. We are processing your releasing. But we, our demand is for everyone to everyone get released from here as soon as possible. But they say it is not possible to release all of you in one. But we said, OK, but give us the time. But they don’t give us the time, and they’re just flinching, and they don’t give us the time. Because the people in here, when they are inside, they are highly frustrated and they’re depressed, and they cannot endure anymore. There is lot of suffering, diseases, skin diseases, and lots of mental problems, Alzheimers.

And the people there are just as, [inaudible] alone and they are not aiming to speak with the people, and there is not a good quality clinic. Sometimes we have access to visit the doctor, and sometimes we are not visit to the doctor. We have a boiling water problem. And there are lots of problems that push us, and that every day that they make us like to go crazy, and crazy. That way the people cannot endure, and cannot tolerate to stay inside.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Finally, Ehsanullah, how long have you yourself been interned at the Balikpapan detention center?

EHSANULLAH SAHIL: It is almost four years that I entered in here, since 18 December, 2014. And still I am here.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we will certainly continue to follow your story, Ehsanullah, and we wish you the very best in your efforts to attain freedom.

EHSANULLAH SAHIL: Thank you, sir.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News from Montreal, Canada.

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Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at