Morwan Mohammad walks down an old hotel corridor on Batam Island in northwestern Indonesia before entering a six-square-metre (64sq-foot) room that has been home to him and his growing family for the past eight years.

Mohammad, who fled war in Sudan, is one of hundreds of refugees living in community housing on the island while waiting for resettlement in a third country.

Hotel Kolekta, a former tourist hotel, was converted in 2015 into a temporary shelter that today houses 228 refugees from conflict-torn nations including Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. The island, just south of Singapore, has a population of 1.2 million people.

Indonesia, despite having a long history of accepting refugees, is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol, and the government does not allow refugees and asylum seekers to work.

Many had fled to Indonesia as a jumping-off point hoping to eventually reach Australia by boat, but are now stuck in what feels like an endless limbo.

Mohammad and his wife arrived in Jakarta nine years ago after travelling from his hometown Nyala to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and onward to the sprawling Southeast Asian archipelago, where their first stop was the UN refugee agency office in the capital.

“We did not know where to go — just looking for a safe place to live. The most important thing was to get out of Sudan to avoid war,” he said.

They made their way to Batam in 2016, believing it would be easier to travel from there to a third country for resettlement.

All three of Mohammad’s children were born in Indonesia and he does not know where his family will ultimately settle. He says he wants to have a normal life, working and earning money so he can support himself without relying on others for assistance.

“We left our country, our family. We miss our family members. But life here is also too hard for us because, for eight years, we are not working, not doing good activities. Just sleep, wake up, eat, repeat,” he said.

Hotel Kolekta is administered by the Tanjungpinang Central Immigration Detention Center on nearby Bintan Island. That three-storey detention facility, with its barred windows and fading paint, is home to dozens of detainees facing similarly uncertain futures, including whether they will ever return to their homelands, but in conditions that more closely resemble a prison.

Two Palestinian men have languished there for more than a year, unable to return home due to the war in Gaza. Four fishermen from Myanmar are stranded because they cannot afford to pay for their onward travel.

Those held in the detention centre typically violated Indonesia’s immigration regulations, while those living in Hotel Kolekta and other community housing entered the country legally seeking safe haven.

The UNHCR office in Indonesia says that nearly one-third of the 12,295 people registered with the organisation are children who have limited access to education and health services.

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