Indonesia

Indonesia: Ambon refugee numbers to be verified

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M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon

Regency and municipal administration in Maluku plan to start a new inventory of people displaced by the Ambon conflict in order to enable a swift solution to the refugee problem.

The Maluku Social Services Office says that there are currently 9,755 refugee families, or 48,775 people, but this number is yet to be verified.

Besides the absence of solid data on the number of refugees, the issue has been compounded by a lack of funding.

An update on the real number of the displaced is needed in the wake of the central government's decision to stop allocating refugee funds in 2008. The provincial administration, together with regency and municipal administrations, has decided to use a budget sharing program to fund work.

Out of the eight regions in Maluku, five accommodate the remaining refugees -- Ambon city, Central Maluku, Buru, Western Seram and Aru Islands.

The Maluku provincial administration officially handed over authority for the refugee program to municipal and regency administrations on June 11.

Head of Ambon Social Service Office Arsyad Namsa said Saturday that his office would verify data on the 2,365 families or 11,825 people registered as refugees with the Ambon municipal administration. The funds to finance the refugees' settlement would be carried by the provincial administration, he said.

"Our duty will only be to verify the data. Its financing is not fully the authority of the municipal administration," Namsa said.

Many refugees have still not received aid eight years after the conflict broke out in 1999, Namsa said.

Over the three years of fighting, their houses were torched, possessions stolen and family members killed.

Thousands of people were driven from their villages, most of whom have still not received the assistance the government promised them and say they have been led on a wild goose chase in meeting the requirements to obtain aid.

Namsa said that a verification team would be deployed to check the number of gutted houses during the crisis and the status of the refugees.

As the displaced families have thrived with new families, the settlement will deal only with those whose houses were destroyed. "The compensation will be given based on the destroyed houses, not the number of the families," he said, adding that the compensation money would be enough to cover construction costs and would also include a transportation allowance to enable them to return to their home towns.

Separately, Ambon Legislative Council speaker Lucky Watimury said that such a verification was badly needed to decide the amount of funds to be taken from the city budget for the year 2008.

Western Seram refugee coordinator La Ali Wabula said earlier he and 1,500 other displaced families did not know where to turn next.

A series of meetings, including ones with Maluku Vice Governor M.A. Latuconsina and Maluku Social Services Office head Fenno Tahalele, had been unproductive, he said.

"Most of us have been refugees for eight years now, but we still haven't received our rights from the government," Wabula said.