Vaccinating refugees in Indonesia, for the benefit of all

Asha Bajaj
6 min readNov 7, 2021

UN/Canadian-Media: Refugees in Indonesia, many of whom have fled Afghanistan’s mounting crises, have lagged far behind the rest of the population when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations. The UN is helping to reverse this trend, UN reports said.

One recent Thursday, Ali Madad Ibrahimi accompanied an elderly man from Afghanistan to a registration desk under a big red and white tent in Jakarta’s central district.

He translated instructions into the Afghan Dari language, and the pair entered a spacious hall where blue-uniformed officers sat behind rows of desks. He stayed by the man’s side until a COVID-19 vaccine dose has been safely injected into his left arm.

However, until just over a month ago, Mr. Ibrahimi — himself an Afghan refugee and an official interpreter with the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) since 2019 — had to do his work virtually: Government COVID-19 regulations meant that even boarding a bus to a neighborhood where many Afghan refugees lived, required a vaccine certificate.

That changed in late September though, when Mr. Ibrahimi became one of the first refugees in Indonesia to be fully vaccinated, thanks to a private scheme jointly organized by several UN agencies.

Around the same time, on September 21, a new decree from Indonesia’s Ministry of Health promised to dramatically increase access to vaccinations for the 13,273 refugees in Indonesia, reflecting broader steps towards greater inclusion for one of the most vulnerable groups in the country.

“I’m very grateful to the UN team for providing vaccines for me and other refugees”, he says. “Now that I have been fully vaccinated, I can get back to my routine, assisting my fellow refugees who need interpreters”.

A view of Bulungan Sports Hall, Jakarta, where the refugee vaccination event took place on 7 October 2021. This vaccination event was a collaboration of UNHCR, DKI Jakarta Provincial Government, and KADIN (Indonesia Chambers of Commerce and Industry). Image credit: UNHCR Indonesia

‘Two days full of nightmares’

More than half of the refugees in Indonesia are from Afghanistan, and the majority of them are members of the Hazara ethnic minority, a mostly Shiite Muslim community who were brutally oppressed under the Taliban, before the US invasion in 2001.

For many, watching the Taliban retake Kabul in August, was a devastating reminder of the circumstances that forced them to flee.



Asha Bajaj

I write on national and international Health, Politics, Business, Education, Environment, Biodiversity, Science, First Nations, Humanitarian, gender, women