Wed, 21 Jun 2000

Government battling with refugee dilemma

JAKARTA (JP): The problem of refugees is quickly becoming a major unresolved problem in the country with over three-quarters of a million people displaced from their homes due to various conflicts.

Djoko Sidik Pramono of the People's Mobilization Affairs office at the Ministry of Transmigration and Population revealed here on Tuesday that there are 765,071 refugees in need of attention.

These were dominated by refugees from East Timor, Maluku, North Maluku, West Kalimantan and Aceh provinces.

He admits that the government simply does not have the resources to resettle or send them all back home.

Current Government statistics show that as of the middle of June less than 30,000 had been successfully resettled or returned home.

Many of these refugees have lived in limbo for several years.

Speaking during a hearing with the House of Representatives Commission VII, Djoko said that of the 54,816 refugees in Aceh, only 5,564 are not in refugees camps while the rest are still living in camps in Aceh and neighboring North Sumatra.

Of the known 64,035 mostly Madurese refugees who fled ethnic clashes in West Kalimantan two years ago, 57,655 are still in temporary dwellings in the province.

The largest number of refugees fled the bloody conflict which is still ongoing in Maluku and North Maluku.

Government statistics show that there are a total of 486,797 refugees in the conflict which has dragged on for one and a half years. Only one-tenth have been able to return to their homes.

Djoko said the government would intensify its program to resettle refugees in other safer provinces if the situation remained too unstable for them for them to return home.

In a related development, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in Geneva on Tuesday it has suspended activities in three refugee camps in West Timor because of violent or threatening incidents.

"UNHCR has suspended activities in three West Timor camps following three extremely worrisome incidents," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said as quoted by AFP.

Local authorities had been informed that the UNHCR "cannot resume its activities in the camps without security guarantees," he added.

The camps at Noelbaki, Tuapukan and Naibonat, near Kupang, house some 24,000 people who sought refuge from unrest in East Timor. (prb)