Tue, 04 Feb 2003

15,700 Acehnese refugees demand resettlement funds

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

A total of 15,716 Acehnese families who have taken refuge in North Sumatra have yet to receive resettlement funds the central government pledged to grant in its program to end the refugee issue nationwide by the end of March 2003.

Edi Gunawan Sirait, coordinator of Acehnese refugees in the province, questioned the government's commitment to solve the refugee problem soon, saying only that 7,380 of 23,096 families taking refuge in several regencies in the province had received financial aid for resettlement.

The central government has decided to provide Rp 8,750,000 in financial assistance to each family and, so far, has disbursed Rp 105 billion to that end. However, payment has been halted following allegations of misuse of the refugee funds.

Some 1.5 million people who were victims of conflict are still taking refuge in East Nusa Tenggara, Madura, East Java, North Sulawesi and Papua.

Sirait said social affairs minister Bachtiar Chamsyah, who visited Medan recently, pledged to resume disbursement of the funds, but so far, nothing had been done to solve the refugee problem.

North Sumatra governor also called on the central government to disburse the funds to prevent them from committing crimes and becoming a cause of other social problems, said Sirait.

Agus Ahayar, 39, a Acehnese refugee who has waited for two years for resettlement, said his family was relying solely on the financial aid as he had no other source of income.

Misno concurred, saying he would go back to his father's home village in Riau to start afresh. He added he would not return to Aceh because, despite the peace accord, the actual situation in the province still remained chaotic.

"After receiving the payment, we will return to our father's home town in Pekanbaru. I plan to build a new house in my father's home village," he said.