An English teacher who fled the Taliban finds a home at last

In November 2019, the BBC reported on Shams Erfan, a 21-year-old Afghan who fled the Taliban, alone, as a teenager. We met him in Indonesia, where he was stuck in a refugee camp – one of millions worldwide with only a tiny chance of starting a new life. Four years later, he writes his own story.

On the afternoon of 8 November 2021, I sat on the cement stairs inside the International Ferry Terminal in the city of Batam, Indonesia. It was a three-minute walk from the refugee shelter where I lived; an escape from the camp’s small, dark and windowless rooms.

Two cargo ships were parked on the other side of the terminal promenade. I watched the men unloading sacks of rice and flour from the ship. The warm salty water, breaking against the cement wall of the promenade, splashed on my face.

With nowhere to go, I found another bench, at the east end of the terminal, under the shade of a coconut tree. I could see the ferries full of tourists leaving Batam for Singapore, just across the water. I became lost in imagination, dreaming of freedom.

Soon, I had to return to the shelter’s small, cramped rooms, to meet the 6pm curfew. To distract myself, I opened my phone. There was an email.

It was from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

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