Children in Class 3_Fotor

During my time in Nauru, I was fortunate enough to work with a number of talented and caring people. Julia Frei and Laura O’Neill were two of the more impressive characters. After working in Nauru, the two young women became more and more involved with the displaced communities in Indonesia. This is their story:

“There are currently 13,110 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia. These men, women and children have to live in legal limbo for several years with minimal support and limited access to basic human rights such as education, healthcare, livelihood and dignity.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and there is no domestic law in Indonesia that protects the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Even though refugees and asylum seekers are allowed to temporarily stay in the country while registered with UNHCR, available protection space is fragile and unpredictable, and restrictive policies such as prohibition of work and movement restrictions are in place. Many refugees and asylum seekers live in urban spaces (not managed camps), exposing themselves to the possibility of detention, expulsion and refoulment.

The UNHCR in Indonesia processes asylum claims; tries to finds durable solutions to displacement such as permanent resettlement in third countries or voluntary repatriation; tries to increase protection space; and advocates with the Indonesian government to establish effective legal frameworks. However, when only 6% of their requested budget is funded and with just 40 staff countrywide, the organisation is far beyond capacity. According to the UNHCR Indonesia Fact Sheet of August 2015, the average waiting period from registration with UNHCR to ‘first instance’ interview ranged between 8 to 20 months depending on priority and complexity of the case. The same fact sheet reported that there were ‘first instance’ interviews of 6,022 individuals pending. After first interview, it usually takes several months to receive a decision and further months to years to be approved for resettlement. The continuous changes in Australian immigration policies have contributed to prolonged waiting times.

Same Skies is a non-religious, politically-neutral, non-profit organisation founded under Swiss law in 2014. We facilitate and strengthen refugee and asylum seeker groups through organisational capacity-building. We provide training and support in humanitarian action, leadership, project management, finance, governance, strategic planning, communications, fundraising and more. We assist with set-up funding and in-kind donations, and we facilitate educational and vocational skills-sharing through teacher-training and educational capacity-building. We try to avoid activities that involve high operational costs in order to enable sustainability and ownership of projects, and prevent dependency. It is our ideology not to permanently base foreign workers on the ground and, ideally, our support is phased out after self-sustaining structures have been established.

The Refugee Learning Nest (the Nest) is our flagship project in Indonesia. It is a protection space, where people come together for education, the sharing of information and vocational skills, sports, arts and other social interactions. Refugee children attend the Nest on a regular basis for classes in English, mathematics, social sciences, and art facilitated by voluntary teachers from within the refugee community. They also provide English lessons for women and a tailoring workshop. The team organises sporting activities such as Taekwondo, Futsal and Volleyball, and hosts a parents’ group. Currently we are working on the development of health promotion activities and opportunities for adult males.

One year ago, many of the refugees and asylum seekers hardly left their houses, and had limited meaningful social interaction. Today, an ever-growing team of volunteers donates their time, knowledge and skills to plan, organise and implement activities for their own community members. Where desperation, depression and disillusion once had the upper hand, today there is a thriving community hub filled with laughter, hope and happy faces.

Same Skies was founded by a group of multidisciplinary humanitarian professionals who want to build innovative approaches in refugee protection and assistance. It is our vision that refugee and asylum seeker communities in transit countries can live with self-determination and in dignity. We use a strength- and rights-based approach because we do not see vulnerability as a fixed condition that cannot be overcome.

Due to the local work restrictions, a high degree of underutilised skills and capacities can be found in refugee communities in Indonesia. The refugee flight uproots qualified men and women from their social networks and they often struggle with the loss of status, purpose and self-respect. Through meaningful engagement they can regain their self-confidence and overcome situational depression, while at the same time being of assistance to their own communities and reducing the need for external protection.

We have been approached by the refugee community asking us to support a second refugee-led community hub based on the Nest. In order to make this goal a reality, we need to raise $20,000 to establish the hub and train volunteers to manage it (this budget does not include any salaries).

If you want to make a difference and you want to see your money go directly to communities in need please make your donation now and promote our campaign through your social networks.

Please donate through:

Find more information about Same Skies on our website, follow our activities on Facebook: ( or contact us by email

Follow the progress of the Nest on Facebook:

The refugee community and Same Skies thank you!

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