The people Aceh in Indonesia have warmly welcomed and care for around two thousand desperate people from Myanmar and Bangladesh who arrived on their shores last month.
There has been an outpouring of public sympathy for the migrants, particularly the Rohingya, who are fleeing state-sanctioned persecution in their native Myanmar. The Bangladeshis are for the most part seeking to escape grinding poverty.
Locals have donated piled of second hand clothes and food. And close friendships have been created.
52 year old widow Suwarni lives just behind the hospital in Langsa Aceh.
When she heard that hundreds of injured boat people had been brought to the hospital she went to visit to see if she could help.
In one room she found six injured men—in the worst condition was 20 year old Muhammad Lalon from Bangladesh.
“Lalon was half naked. So I went back to my home and got my husbands clothes,” she said.
Her husband died 10 years ago.
Muhammad Lalon is from a poor village in Bangladesh. His mother died seven years ago and he wanted to find work in Malaysia. So he paid a people smuggler and tried to make the journey by sea.
But the boat broke down. The captain abandoned them and he and hundreds of others floated at sea for more than two months. No country wanted to take them.
As things became desperate fights broke out on the boats and Lalon says his leg was broken by another refugee.
Suwarni washed Lalon’s blood stained clothes and started to visit him each day with her 12 year old daughter Dede.
“We were not allowed to go inside the hospital, so we waited outside the window. He said, ‘mama, coffee, tea’. So I got that for him and gave him some bread too. I cooked simple dishes of fish and chili sauce for all the six Bangladeshi refugees in the room,” she said.
Sometimes he lied to get in and see him.
“The security said we could get infected with a virus but I am not afraid of that. In the end I would say ‘excuse me sir, we have a small store inside the hospital, can we go in?’ We just wanted to help the refugees. That’s why they call me mamma Indonesia,” she said.
But today, they have turned up at the hospital and were told that Lalon is no longer here.
“Lalon is just like family to me. My daughter cried when she came home from school and found out that Lalon is not in the hospital. She cried so much,” she said.
Together we go and try and find him.
We head to the refugee camps that have been set up by the Indonesian government by the port in Langsa for the Rohingya and Bangladeshis.
Inside the medical tent we find Lalon lying on a stretcher with this leg wrapped in thick bandage.
Dede rushes up to him.
“Brother Lalon, brother Lalon, if you go to Bangladesh, I will cry,” she cried.
I translate in English what she is saying and another Bangladeshi refugee, Muhammad Koyes explains what’s happening to Lalon in Bengali.
They take photos together and laugh.
But then Dede starts to cry again thinking about Lalon leaving. He has been classified as an ‘illegal economic migrant’ not a refugee like the Rohingya and will be deported back to Bangladesh.
“I love Lalon like a brother. I don’t have any sibilings. I just live with my mother. I can’t lose him. When I went to school and my friends told me that Lalon was not in the hospital anymore. I was shocked and started to cry. We always pray for Lalon’s health. We hope he will get recovered soon and stay here in Indonesia forever,” she said.
Teary eyed, Lalon says he just found a new family.
“My mother also passed away. Here in Indonesia in hospital I have found a new mother who takes good care of me. The people are so kind. I need a mother,” he said.
Suwarni knows time in running out. She asks if Lalon wants to join her small family and be adopted by her.
Lalon says he wants to do that.
His friend Koyes comes up with a plan.
“Lalon can go back to Bangladesh. After one-two years if the situation is good he can apply to come to Indonesia and get all the right documents and move here,” he said.
Suwarni and Dede say goodbye today. They will be back tomorrow to spend the last few days with Lalon before he is deported.