Sat, 25 Jan 2003

`Govt misses refugee relocation target by a mile'

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government, already weighed down with political and economic problems, seems to have missed its target of concluding the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of refugees, a program it had planned to complete by the end of last year.

The head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Michael Almquist, told The Jakarta Post on Friday that there were still 400,000 internally displaced persons in a number of conflict-prone zones around the country.

Earlier, Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah said that his ministry had succeeded in sending home a large number of refugees, leaving only around 50,000 people displaced from their homes.

"I don't know how the minister came up with that number, but in Medan, where people from the neighboring province have sought refuge, there are still around 50,000 displaced persons," Almquist said referring to Aceh.

He also told the Post that given the immense number of internally displaced persons in the country, it was unlikely that the government would succeed in returning all the refugees to their homes by the end of this July.

He added: "There are still a significant number of refugees in some regions affected by ethnic conflicts, such as Maluku and Central Kalimantan".

In Maluku, the conflict between Muslim and Christian groups has led to the displacement of people of different faiths from their homes. In the case of the bloody conflicts in Central Kalimantan, where migrant Madurese were subjected to a savage pogrom by the native Dayaks, the former were forced to flee back to their native island of Madura.

Bachtiar said that his ministry had found great difficulty in returning the Madurese to their former homes in Central Kalimantan as the indigenous inhabitants refused to accept them.

He also said that his ministry had now suspended a program to provide relief aid as the assistance provided had time and again been misused by opportunists.

"Some people fake identification papers to make money by pretending to be a refugee, when in fact they are quite well-off and have no right to receive the assistance," he explained.

The minister said that a team from his ministry was conducting an investigation into the exact number of refugees.

Against this backdrop, the ministry had converted the relief program for refugees into a poverty eradication program, he said.

"For fiscal 2003, the Ministry of Social Affairs has allocated Rp 700 billion (US$ 78 million) for the resettlement of refugees and Rp 200 billion for the poverty eradication program," he explained.

Saying that the amount of the resettlement funds for refugees was too high, he suggested that the poverty eradication program should be strengthened to help the remaining refugees across the country.

Separately, Almquist said that his office had provided US$1.3 million to help the Indonesian government return internally displaced persons to their homes.