US deports grieving Indonesian father a year after son's brain tumour death

US deports grieving Indonesian father a year after son's brain tumour death

US deports grieving Indonesian father a year after son's brain tumour death

Updated 7 November 2017, 19:30 AEDT

After being deported from his home of two decades, Haris Simangunsong is unemployed and lives by himself in a Jakarta bedsit with his grieving family thousands of kilometres away.

Indonesian man Haris Simangunsong sits in a small, hot room in Serpong, a suburb of Jakarta, and cries as he recounts his deportation from the United States, where he had lived happily with his family for more than two decades.

Key points:

  • For years, Haris Simangunsong lived illegaly in the US
  • Donald Trump has promised to purge the country of illegal immigrants
  • Haris is banned from returning to the US for 10 years, his wife lives there

In 1996, he felt increasingly unsafe as a Christian and student activist and left the Indonesian capital prior to the fall of president Suharto and the mass unrest of 1998.

For years, just like hundreds of Christian Indonesians like him, he lived illegally in the US without a visa or citizenship and with authorities turning a blind eye to his lack of credentials.

But the Trump administration will have nothing of it, and the Indonesian citizens are now being deported home in their dozens.

"My late father just told me, 'Just go to the US embassy maybe you can get a visa'," Haris recalled.

Haris was given two six-month visas to live in the US, but in 1997 did not believe it was safe to return to majority Muslim Indonesia.

"I saw the news it was still the same in Indonesia, still the same," he said.

In May 1998, mass violence and civil unrest saw the Chinese community targeted, their business burned down and women raped, eventually leading to the fall of president Suharto and the New Order government.

Too scared to return home, Haris settled in Aurora, near Denver in Colorado. He married an Indonesian woman and had two children.

In 2007, a US court rejected his bid for asylum, but he remained in the country.

"The judge told me you can go to anywhere in Indonesia because you guys have 17,000 islands," he said.

During the US presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to purge the country of illegal immigrants.

Unemployed and alone in a bedsit

In May, Haris was deported, and separated from his family. He now lives by himself in a bedsit in south-west Jakarta and is unemployed.

Last year one of his sons, Chris, died from a brain tumour.

"I'm depressed," he said, fighting back tears.

"The really sad thing is for my son, because he just lost his brother and then me, just one year apart."

Haris is now banned from returning to the US for 10 years.

His wife lives there illegally, while his remaining son is a US citizen.

Although there is no direct risk for the Chinese in Indonesia now, anti-Chinese sentiment has recently resurfaced. It flared in May with the jailing of the capital's Christian and Chinese Governor for blasphemy.

Dozens of Indonesians still living in America, including in New Hampshire and New Jersey, are also facing deportation.

The Indonesian Foreign Ministry has not commented on the development.