Sat, 05 Mar 2005

Don't kick out foreigners: Aceh victims

Tiarma Siboro and Nani Afrida, The Jakarta Post/Banda Aceh

Survivors of last December's tsunami asked the Aceh authorities on Friday to review their new policy of restricting the number of foreigners who have been helping them after the devastating catastrophe.

On Thursday, the National Police's Aceh Task Force announced that foreigners working for some organizations under the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and the media would be required to leave Aceh by March 26 because their presence would be "no longer relevant to the current situation" here.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are among the UN agencies on the "please leave" list.

However, the victims of the disaster said the government should allow these organizations to stay longer in Aceh as they had provided them with proper housing areas and job opportunities.

Syamsuddin, 50, a villager from Lampuuk in Lhok Nga, Aceh Besar, said he was happy working for IOM and hoped he could live at one of the houses it is building.

"I lost most of my family members and have to live here as a refugee. Thank God that IOM came with their project, so I can work as a construction worker," said Syamsuddin, who is now sheltering in Tinkeum Lampuenerut in Banda Aceh.

He said he is paid Rp 50,000 a day by the organization.

"I prefer to stay at this house, instead of living at the barracks (set up by the government). I hope the government will allow IOM to stay here. There is no clean water nor sanitation at the barracks," he told The Jakarta Post.

IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said his organization had started building houses complexes for internally displaced persons (IDP) in several areas in Banda Aceh.

Under the project agreed by the government late in January, IOM planned to construct some 11,000 earthquake-resistant houses for around 60,000 tsunami victims, he said.

"At that time, Mr. Alwi Shihab, who was responsible for the Aceh Disaster Mitigation Board, asked us to build houses for the people. We agreed with the proposal," Dillon said. Alwi is also the Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare.

"As the projects are going on, I wish we can stay here to finish the job," Dillon added

Two IOM projects are located in the Lagang and Tinkeum villages, all in Banda Aceh, and largely involve local people as construction workers.

A 36 square meter temporary house designed by IOM can be built within two days and is easily taken down.

Refugees could stay in the houses, pending the government- sponsored relocation and resettlement programs expected to start this year.

State data shows about 400,000 Acehnese people lost their homes to the tsunami.

Another disaster victim, Umar Dhani, 34, said he and other Acehnese residents would be willing to join the relocation program, only if they were moved to places providing minimum requirements for public housing.

Earlier, Brig. Gen. T. Ashikin, the police's Aceh task force chief, said the IOM and UNHCR had no competency to continue working in Aceh. There were "no refugees" nor "migrants" in the area, but rather internally displaced people (IDPs) -- a problem that the government should deal with, not foreigners, Ashikin said.