[Hpn] Aceh's homeless are wary of resettlement

William C. Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Tue, 18 Jan 2005 10:53:37 -0500


 Aceh's homeless are wary of resettlement

 By Jane Perlez and Evelyn Rusli The New York Times

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

KLING MERIA, Indonesia Like many of the hundreds of thousands of survivors
left homeless by the Dec. 26 tsunami, Muhammad Adan, his wife and their six
children confront an unpalatable choice about where to go now. But here in
Aceh Province, that decision must be made at the intersection of natural
calamity and civil war.
The couple have returned several times to the shards of their house, and as
they contemplate the landscape of loss, they wonder if they will ever be
able to come back.
"Who will rebuild it?" asked Adan, 60, of the tin-roofed brick home he built
with his own hands, where his wife tended a garden of lush mango trees and
brilliant bougainvillea.
They could stay in a neighboring village with one of their grown daughters,
but they are afraid of the added burden that will place on her. Or they
could go to one of the 24 resettlement camps that the government has started
to build for some of the displaced.
But the notion of large numbers of people in close quarters guarded by
soldiers raises sour memories - and some real fear - in Aceh, in
northwestern Sumatra, where the government has fought an insurgency for
nearly 30 years.
In various phases of the civil conflict, the government herded people into
relocation camps, often after houses were destroyed by the army. Under the
banner of security the government used the camps to keep separatist rebels
from mixing with local populations.
Some Indonesian aid agencies say the new camps could end up serving a
similar purpose, and local people share the concern.
"I am worried that this is another kind of martial law," said Livia
Iskander, a psychologist and a member of an Acehnese aid agency, Recovery.
"The relocation camps should not be controlled by the military. They should
be given back to the community, so people will not live in constant fear."
The government has already begun construction of two resettlement camps,
which it prefers to call centers, that it will administer with the United
Nations refugee agency.
The first two camps, one near the airport at Banda Aceh, the provincial
capital, will consist of 10 barracks-style buildings made of wood and metal
sheeting, said the site supervisor, Adi Putra.
Major General Bambang Darmono, the officer in charge of the operation, said
that "of course we will have soldiers there."
The UN refugee agency says it is not opposed to the army's presence at the
camps if it is to provide security and is for the purpose of "law and
order," said the agency's deputy representative for Southeast Asia, Stéphane
But he added, "If it goes beyond that and its purpose is to control the
people, we may have questions."
UN officials say they are also trying to insist on refugees moving
voluntarily to the new centers. "The idea is that there will be no forced
relocation," said the head of emergency assistance for the United Nations in
Indonesia, Michael Elmquist.
But for those like Adan and his family, there may be little choice. Adan
said he wanted nothing to do with an official resettlement camp - in part,
he said, because he knew that a camp would be a long way from his daughter
But Masaran's own resources are depleted. She is already looking after her
father's other children. Her house was spared by the tsunami, but her rice
field is flooded under dirty saltwater that washed in. The field was her
only source of support. "I don't feel comfortable living off my daughter
forever, but I don't want to move," Adan said.
One of the concerns of the refugee agency is that the large centers could
become permanent features in Aceh, leaving families isolated from their home
communities and extended family relationships.
To try to limit the number of people in the new refugee centers, the UN
refugee agency says it will assist victims whose houses can be repaired. "We
will start helping people rebuild their damaged houses by providing
materials," said Mans Nyberg, a spokesman for the agency.
To complement the government-built camps, the refugee agency said it had
started to distribute 10,000 lightweight tents, made for tropical weather,
to provide shelter for 100,000 people.
About 200,000 survivors in Aceh are believed to be living with relatives,
and while many prefer that arrangement over moving to one of the big
centers, they are clearly becoming a financial burden on their host
Adan's wife, Rusmini, said that with a little investment she could make a go
of it for herself and her family in Angan, the village bordering Kling Meria
where she and her husband have temporarily settled.
She says she will do everything she can to avoid life in a camp.
"I want to own a becak and sell vegetables at the market where many of my
friends are," she said referring to the small motorized vehicles that
villagers use for transportation. "There is hope for this, but I have no
money right now."
Officials of the UN refugee agency said they were concentrating on housing
for now and had not tackled the question of offering small loans to help
survivors get back on their feet.
In the meantime, frictions are emerging in the small villages like Angan
that were left unscathed but now have become makeshift refugee centers and
must cope with housing the homeless.
Many of the displaced survivors sleep in a small open-sided tin-roofed hut
usually used as a public meeting place. A makeshift kitchen has opened on
the side of the shelter, and vats of steaming rice are readied at lunchtime.
The 370 refugees staying with relatives in Angan are too much of a burden
for the families, said the village leader, Surya Darma.