I’m a Refugee. What’s Your Superpower?

It was somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean when I woke up from my not-so-deep nap. I pressed the service button to ask the flight attendant for a glass of water. My mouth was parched, and I could feel my shrivelled lips. It took me a second to dry the glass out, maybe less. I worked hard to get back to sleep cause I knew I was going to be fidgeting if I was wakeful. But how could I not be nervous anyway? I was about to step into Canadian border and do something monumental for my life. That would be the first time ever I’d walk into a country neither as a citizen nor a visitor.

“What’s the purpose of your visit, Sir?” asked the immigration guy at counter 20, Toronto Pearson International Airport. It was a bearded white man who, I was certain, just washed her face a few minutes ago. His face looked refreshed and there were some water drops on his right cheek.

“I’m claiming asylum,” my voice cracked.

He looked deeply into my eyes. “Against what country?”

“The Republic of Indonesia.”

“On what basis?”

“Sexual orientation.”

“Welcome to Canada, Mr. Fahd,” it was rare that someone pronounced my last name correctly, “I don’t know what you’d been through, but I think you’re being very brave.”

Brave. Ha! He didn’t know I was scared as fuck and had been practicing this scenario a million times in front of the airplane’s washroom mirror. He then told me where to go: an interview room where some other asylum seekers were stationed.

 

The Interview

I had to report to a border agent named Choudry. I was sure he had either Indian or Middle Eastern background. He looked a bit intimidating with his lush beard and brawny biceps.

I looked around. There were three single mothers with seven whimpering toddlers. One of them was white, French-speaking, with a baby boy on her back and a slightly older girl she breastfed. She looked exhausted. Two others wore hijab, spoke no English, tried so hard to calm their kids down. There was also a man around my age, Latin-looking, with a pair of jeans he wasn’t supposed to wear anymore. A very old Chinese man sitting in the corner was accompanied by an interpreter, and two black women who’d been holding hands now wept each other’s tears.

Choudry called me to the photo room. After taking pictures and finger prints, he started the interview. He was kind enough to offer me either an interview in Indonesian language or an interpreter, which I refused.

Him: “So what happens in Indonesia?”

Me: “Indonesian society, including the government and authorities, is dangerously homophobic: ministers & the Vice President had released statements condemning homosexuality; LGBT people had been physically attacked by radical Muslims and publicly humiliated by the police; and the parliament is finalizing a new Criminal Code which criminalizes gay sex.”

Him: “If you return to your country, what would happen to you?”

Me: “I could get harmed by the conservative Muslims, or sentenced in prison for five years when the parliament finally enact the bill next month. There’s an increase of radical Muslims callings for the public to attack LGBT community, including when they said, ‘Your blood is halal,’ meaning that to kill LGBT people is religiously allowed in Islam. Many neighbourhoods, including mine, even installed banners saying they’re anti LGBT. The only way to avoid such mistreatment is by never having neither sex nor relationship. And by hiding myself forever in the closet.”

Him: “You could ask any authorities, such as the police, to protect you, couldn’t you?”

Me: : “I couldn’t. The police is on the extremists’ side as they always ignored calls from LGBT groups when they were threatened with attacks. Despite the absence of the law, they even announced they had created a special task force to crack down on LGBT community. Last year only: two consenting adult men were publicly whipped after being caught in bed together; women with unfeminine appearances were evicted from their private home as the police suspected them to be lesbians; and 141 men were detained after a raid at a sauna, forced to strip down and see the reporters, resulting on their faces and naked bodies being published nationwide hours later.”

image1

Just a few steps away from where I lived in Jakarta: “This area is free from communism, drugs, gambling, alcohol, radicalism, and LGBT.” It hurt me every time I saw this.

 

The Examination

That night after taking my initial statements and verifying my identity & criminal records, Choudry let me go and I set my feet for the first time on Torontonian snowy soil. I stayed at an airbnb house in downtown. Toronto looked black and white to me, no colour, cause I was too nervous to face an examination on the next day. There would be a more in-depth interview with another officer, and they’d examine if my answers were truthful.

So on my first day in the city, I was nervous and decided to distract myself with movies. I watched three movies in a row at a theatre in Yorkville area: Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. All three were magnificent, and successfully did their job to make me forget my own problems. When I went back to the immigration office for my appointment, I felt so powerful. I realized, in this kind of country, I won’t be judged by the society. I can wear whatever and blow whomever I want, just like my spirit animal Samantha Jones once said.

So I held my head up high and walked into the examination room with pride. I saw two familiar faces.

There were the black women I saw during the interview. They were a lesbian couple of three years, fleeing from the Bahamas. They told me how LGBT people face difficulties there, mainly caused by conservative Christians. The discrimination made it hard for them to find good job, and even fired after find ones.

Then I’d ask them, “So I saw you crying the other day. What happened?”

“Obviously it was a hard day for us both. We is in a new country where we ain’t been before, ain’t know a single soul, left our friends and family in the Bahamas… well, I sure you know how it feel,” one of them answered (can’t remember her exotic name).

The other one added, “I cried cause I knew it was hard for my family to see me go. Momma cried that morning, my sister cried. But my life is harder than they’s.”

“But we lucky tho,” she continued. “I mean, we two and you. We ain’t experience what the war refugees did. Remember the two Muslim women with kids the other day? I heard they from Syria. Bet the husbands dead. I ain’t flying to Canada with three kids with me. And the old Chinese man… thank Jesus we speak English. We can afford hotels, many of them stay in cramp camps. And we young. I’m 28, she 26. You, how old?”

“I’ll be thirty in a few days,” answered me, right before we three were summoned to go to the examination rooms, separately.

An officer named Luu, who I believed had a Chinese background, asked me to sit before him. He was around my age, bald, average-built, and very friendly-looking. He spent about an hour to learn my personal history in the last 10 years (my occupations, employers, travels, and addresses). He ended up asking the same questions Choudry asked me, with an additional one: “How long do you intend to stay in Canada for?” in which I answered:

“Intend? Forever, Sir. One should live a life one’s proud of. I would’ve been proud of mine if I was born somewhere in a sane place like Canada, but too bad I was raised in a country where love is illegal. I can’t change where I was born and raised, but I can decide where to grow old and die. But I can’t do it without the help from your government. I have endured too many years of insult in a culture broken by Muslim supremacists. But I believe in one thing: time, for me too, is up.”

He nodded, and asked me to come back the same time the next day to see his supervisor. His supervisor would decide if my claim against Indonesia was verified and if I had a genuine intention to be in Canada. If one of or both answers are no, they’d have to send me back. And that’s the only thing I was scared of at that moment. I went back to the city, counted every second in worry.

 

The Verification

I went back to the same place the next day. The friendliest officer ever, Tardiff a.k.a Choudry & Luu’s supervisor, met me. She was very tall, and I liked her blonde wavy hair. She kept addressing me as “my friend” as we spoke, unlike her inferiors who called me “Sir” or “Mr. Fahd”.

“We’ve verified your case, my friend, and you’re eligible to defend your case before the immigration board on May 31 at 12.30 PM.”

I exhaled in relief. “Oh, I thought you were gonna send me home today. I barely slept last night.”

“No, my friend. I hope Canada is home.”

As I took the train back to the city, I read every single document Tardiff gave me. I had my temporary resident card, healthcare, and many other things I had to guard with my life. There was also a form stating the immigration people would share my data, skills & expertise with potential employers to help me find a job.

I couldn’t believe I was officially a refugee claimant now.

I suddenly remembered my conversation with the Bahamian ladies the day before. They were damn right. I thought I was powerful enough to be able fly from my country, leave everything behind. But countless refugees, not just in Canada, had to carry extra luggages with them: kids, sick parents, wounded spouses… and even many of them flee without a privilege of buying airplane tickets. Many of them took undersized boats where their family members drowned and died after big waves attacked.

And they survived it. But not only did they survive it; they took the trauma, the hurt or whatever it was, and used it to fight.

I wonder what kind of power they’ve got.

It mustn’t have been just a power.

It must have been superpowers.

So I lift a glass to my fellow refugees who are very brave to fight for lives they deserve. I applaud everyone who has decided to live a life bigger than themselves. Everyone who decided to slay those dragons and say, “My dream burns brighter than my fear.”

I salute you all, and I am honoured to be your fellow refugee.

Being in this position really opens my eyes toward current immigrant & refugee issues. I respect every government and society, like Canadians, who’ve been letting us in with their arms wide open; and condemn President Trump and his supporters for making immigrants’ lives even harder. They had no idea what it is like to lose a home at the risk of never finding one again.

As I’m writing this, my mind is with those DACA Dreamers, TPS Holders from Haiti and El Salvador, and queer refugees in the United States. If you read this: America is your home. With our superpowers, we’ll resist & persist together.

Justin-Trudeau-TO-Pride-2017_credit-Nick-Lachance-2042x1361

And now I’m able to see how colourful Toronto actually is.

50 comments

  1. subsymphonika · February 4

    Suli honey, you’re a brave soul. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope you can finally find home.
    Looking forward to read more of your journey ~xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. dnuraini · February 4

    Fikaaaaaaarr! 💚💜💙💛❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anonymous · February 5

    I’m happy and sad reading your story. Sad, because our nation has become so intolerance that people have to leave the country to be save. Happy, because you have the bravery to be yourself and to find a much better place you can call home. May you find peace, love, tolerance, respect, and support in Canada. Can’t wait to read more on your journey 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • ahartami · February 11

      Hi Fikar and Anonymous!

      I have the same feeling with you. I am proud of your bravery, Fikar. I wish you the best things in Canada and everywhere. I am a Muslim Indonesian who was born and raised in a village of Central Java. I have a transgender classmate since my childhood. I thought he was fine as a transgender and allowed to pray in Mosque. He used to pray in man area. But he prayed in women area when last time I saw him. Sometimes my friend brought his boyfriend, we were okay with them. One day I talked to the family of Imam’s mosque, the family accepted my transgender friend. Most of people in our village is linked to Nahdatul Ulama. I was proud of my village which never do violence to transgender.
      But now I am feeling worried after reading your story and many discrimination cases. I am sad to read that military announcement. I never imagined such things in Indonesia.
      I am now studying in Europe. I do not know the condition in my village. I just heard that FPI opened a branch in my district. I hope my friend is okay. I hope NU will protect him. I hope everyone is safe in Indonesia. I would like to promote equality in my surroundings. I hope you know that you are not alone, guys! ❤

      Like

      • Zulfikar Fahd · April 15

        Hello you two, thanks for the comment and so sorry it took me this long to appreciate it. Have a good day!

        Like

  4. Bryan_t · February 5

    Hi Fikar,

    Welcome to Canada. I also moved to Toronto in 2015 for a similar reason (but using a different path). It’s deeply saddening that many people in our beloved country have taken the “LGBT” bait from powerful business moguls and political crooks to create chaos and design a hidden coup. It’s deeply saddening that they don’t understand the concept of universal love, blinded by fear-inducing scriptures written by human beings who played God. I admire your bravery and I feel that I need to learn a thing or two from you, as I can also share you some of my stories surviving the below-freezing-mark weather, the pain of job search (and the dating scene! lol). I’ll enter my email address in the form below. Just give me a shout. Welcome to Canada, mi amigo. You’ve come to the right place, a place that is worth calling home.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Indah Susanti · February 5

    “One should live a life one’s proud of. I would’ve been proud of mine if I was born somewhere in a sane place like Canada, but too bad I was raised in a country where love is illegal.” You made the right decision to move to Canada. It’s ashamed that the authorities cannot protect their own citizens just because of their sexual preferences. I do feel hopeless with Indonesia recent situation. It feels like human rights are dying in Indonesia. Wishing you the best in your new home!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. earthworm · February 5

    I don’t know you but I just want to hug you and wish you a good luck in your new home!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. ivan · February 5

    Hi Fikar! it happens that i stumbled into your blog and found your stories to be absolutely amazing and inspiring both at the same time. do you mind if i added you on whatsapp or line or whatever that is convenient for you to ask more about your stories ?

    don’t worry. i am not a police or whatsoever, just another hustler trying to find his way back home

    cheers,
    ivan

    Like

  8. Brosepta · February 6

    Suli, a Pakistan refugee came to my office once to offer some paintings that he handmade. While choosing some of his paintings, we chat and he told me how a country he once called home posses danger to him, his wife and his 3 children with all the massive bombings and radical moslem movements.

    I can relate to him and I got very sad and angry. We’re both moslems and have children. And we are both frighten on how the religion that we both believed in is being misused by the radicals and irresponsible parties for their God knows whatever personal and political agendas.

    I wish I can tell you that things will get better here and that you can come back to Indonesia someday feeling welcomed and not having to hide in your closet ever again. And probably, reclaiming it as your home like you once did.

    I applaud your courage. You’re a little nuts, I’ll give you that. But thats what makes you epic.

    Good luck in finding home and happy birthday btw!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. dindaaksari · February 6

    Hi Fikar, I hope you have a bright and happy future in Canada. And i want you to know that there are many (strangers and straight) people here in your home countries who are also as warm as they are in Canada – just like me. Hopefully, we get powerful enough to make Indonesia your home again.

    Like

    • Zulfikar Fahd · April 15

      I don’t plan on making Indonesia my home again, in fact I don’t know if it was ever a home to me. But thanks a lot for the kind words!

      Like

  10. Anonymous88 · February 7

    Reading this makes me in tears and angry at the same time about what happened here in Indonesia. Right decision and Good luck for you!

    Like

  11. Rungu Puput Herlambang · February 7

    Is this real story? Someone please tell me,is it really “that easy” to claim asylum? I need to follow your footstep . . .

    Like

    • Zulfikar Fahd · February 7

      It’s my real story, but I can’t say it’s easy. And my process isn’t done yet. I still have to defend my case before the immigration board in May. So they haven’t granted me the asylum yet. And I had to collect evidence (one-year worth of research). Not to mention the mental & financial preparation…

      Like

  12. Elena · February 7

    Hi, Zulfikar! I was so lucky to have found this post. I don’t think it’s a coincidence since my friend and I have also been also planning to do the same thing. Right now we’re in Europe but we’re going to Canada soon. Is there any way for us to get in touch with you personally? Are you staying in Toronto until May? Thank you and best of luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Kania Raras · February 9

    Fikar, salut bet gw. Semua doa terbaik buat lo ya. Semoga menemukan apa yang lo inginkan di sana, semoga menemukan ‘rumah’ yang lo cari 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Anonymous · February 12

    Hi Zulfikar, i just want to say you’re so brave and i’m thankful that you write your story. “I can’t change where I was born and raised, but I can decide where to grow old and die” really hits me right at the heart and make me think over how i should live my life. Thank you 🙂
    I hope things will go well and you live the life you deserve, to love without fear.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: I gained a superpower when I fled Indonesia to seek asylum in Canada – The Gay Power Couple
  16. Selfano · February 13

    Hi Zulfikar, Gay Star News brought me here. Finding this story of yours has given me another hope for my life. Congratulations for your new found home! I hope your Immigration Board hearing goes well!

    I am also a gay guy, who was born to an amazing family but in not so amazing place we call Indonesia. I was recently flew back from Edinburgh, UK after finishing my one and a half year study, and cannot fathom why the situation in Indonesia has become worse for LGBT people compared to when I left it in 2016. Living in sane places such as the UK, has gave me further encouragement to seek my true home. I have found some candidate countries, and Canada is one of it. With your permission, I would like to privately talk to you through your email and discuss your journey about finding your way to your new home. I hope you have an amazing days in Toronto!

    “Living a truthful life shouldn’t be something human beings earned, it should be a basic human rights”

    Best Regards
    Selfano

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: I gained a superpower when I fled Indonesia to seek asylum in Canada – gaytourism.travel
  18. thegregoryproject · February 15

    I’m so happy that you made it to our city. I’m glad you’re here and made it safe and sound. Good luck !
    Oh ya, one question, why isn’t the picture above of Toronto ? 😉

    Like

  19. enokkkk · February 16

    This is so brave. Salute!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Natalia · February 23

    My super power is hiding in the closet from my family for the rest of my life LOL. Your story about how you decided to accept yourself is really inspiring. It’s great to hear that you can finally live your life better in Canada and away from this sick country. I’ve been planning on ‘escaping’ Indonesia too once I am done with university and I will try to dedicate my life helping the LGBT service center in the country where I live in the future, since I see no hope on this forsaken place.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Andrew · March 8

    Hello, dear friend. Good luck with your journey to obtain a new home.
    Can I ask, why Canada, why not USA? Or Europe?
    Canada is a great country, no doubts.
    Im on the same route right now and want to do the right choice.
    The only issue is that I have no money (can save some only on visa and oneway ticket) and some problems with health because of prosecution.
    Im so tired to exist, not to live a normal life…
    Russia is a bad country for being “defective” (LGBTQI) as their saying. Even a single post on your Facebook with a notice of LGBTQI can lead to criminal record and second time to much worse consiquences…
    And the overall relation to LGBTQI is “better for them to be dead or departed from Russia”…

    Like

    • Zulfikar Fahd · March 8

      Uhm… haven’t u been following the news on what’s going on in USA & Europe? I do not want to migrate to a country where the society shows a strong anti-immigrant sentiment.

      Like

      • Andrew · March 8

        Yes, I heard about that. Hope it’s not so bad as it looks.
        Do I need some money to get a lawyer or you can find a free lawyer in Canada?
        It Seems like Canada is the most LGBT-friebdly country right now.

        Like

  22. PK · March 14

    Thanks for sharing this Zulfikar, I hope you got everything sorted. I am moving to Canada in 4 weeks and reading these stories of welcome and inclusion really makes me feel positive for what the future holds.

    Can’t wait to read your other posts.

    -PK

    Liked by 1 person

    • Antonius · March 22

      Are you an assylum also?

      Like

      • PK · April 15

        Hi, I am a permanent resident. I applied through the Express Entry Federal skilled worker program

        Like

    • Zulfikar Fahd · April 15

      Bet you’re in Canada already now. Stay warm!

      Liked by 1 person

  23. tj · March 24

    Hi there, i will pray for you that things will go smoothly in May, and that you will finally find your home. Bless your heart and please keep us posted.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Reader · April 6

    Hi Zulfikar,
    I’m a fellow Indonesian who sympathize with you… I’m also worried and sad to see the fact that Indonesia is becoming more and more intolerant… Can I suggest you something? Maybe you can write your experience in Bahasa Indonesia? (you can be anonymous if you like, or publish it in a separate anonymous blog). Sadly I think in the future there will be more and more Indonesians who will be seeking asylum due to prosecution like this…. so I think your story, experience, tips will be valuable for them/us all.
    I wish you success with your application, good health, and happiness.
    Warm regards from Indonesia

    Liked by 1 person

  25. S3tiawan · 16 Days Ago

    Hai zulfikar

    Seneng banget hari ini bisa baca blog kamu tentang bagaimana mendapatkan suaka terkait status LGBT mu. Sejujurnya disaat saya membrowsing bagaimana cara mendapatkan suaka terkait dengan status LGBT saya, ada sebuah portal berita yang mengulas perpindahan mu ke kanada.

    Saat ini saya memiliki perasaan yang sama, perasaan insecure untuk tinggal di indonesia karena saya gay. Jika kmu berkenan, saya bisa mendapatkan informasi dari kamu, bagaimana cara mendapatkan suaka tersebut?
    Mungkin jalan yang kamu lalui saat itu akan menjadi jalan yang akan saya lalui kedepannya ^^

    Terima kasih atas bantuannya

    Salam,
    Setiawan

    Like

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