Refugees and internally displaced persons in Indonesia: Lombok

Originally published
Findings from USCR site visit, January 11-30, 2000
Internally Displaced Persons from Lombok in Bali


1. At the end of January 2000, more than 7,500 people from the Indonesian island of Lombok were internally displaced on the nearby island of Bali. Nearly all of the displaced are Christian, and a large percentage are ethnic Chinese. Most arrived in Bali soon after January 17, when large-scale riots between Muslims and Christians began in Lombok. Smaller numbers continued to arrive throughout the month. While most arrived by ferry boat, a few came by charter plane. Many of the displaced are from the Lombok capital of Mataram. This is the first known exodus of people from Lombok, at least in recent memory.

2. Most of the displaced persons are living in or around Bali's capital, Denpassar. The others are scattered around Bali. Although some are living with relatives or friends, most are in living in churches, seminaries, retreat houses, and other buildings.

3. Local Catholic and Protestant churches provide the bulk of assistance to the displaced. Much of it is received as donations from the church members, although some comes from others in the community (including Hindus) and from the private sector. Other donations come from Jakarta and other Indonesian cities. The Indonesian government gives rice and provides security (police and army) for the displaced persons. University students and other volunteers perform various tasks. The conditions observed by USCR, which church officials said were representative, appeared good. The displaced persons slept on mats inside buildings and were provided with regular meals and medical care. The church was taking steps to register the children in Catholic schools. Officials, however, said this level of assistance could not be maintained indefinitely.

4. Most displaced persons fled the riots that began on January 17, during a Muslim prayer meeting of 5,000 people, in support of the Muslims in Ambon (a city in Indonesia's Moluku Province, which has experienced sectarian violence for more than a year). According to displaced persons and church workers, a few days prior to the gathering, a Muslim leader had sent a threatening letter to a Christian leader, indicating that violence might follow - a letter reportedly provided to the military before the gathering. At some point during the meeting, unidentified persons joined the gathering and incited anti-Christian sentiment, leading to a riot in which nine churches and 77 houses were reportedly set on fire. In the following days, thousands of Lombok Christians fled the island. Many said they were assisted by the Indonesian police and military, who provided temporary protection in police stations and military headquarters, transported the displaced persons to the ferry dock, and escorted them to Bali. Displaced persons told USCR they believe the military and police were genuinely trying to protect them, rather than forcing them to leave.

5. The displaced persons interviewed told USCR that, although they are Christian, they had lived peacefully with the Muslims in Lombok until just recently. Many emphasized, often sorrowfully, that they had Muslim friends and that there had been no problems until now. Many observers speculate that - as is believed to be the case elsewhere in Indonesia - rogue members of the military, "political elites," and other "provocateurs" are inciting sectarian violence as a means to undermine the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid and demonstrate the necessity of a strong military. Others speculated that the violence was simply "revenge" for the similar occurrences in Ambon.

6. A team of church workers and Indonesian police met the displaced upon their arrival at the ferry dock in Bali. The team took the displaced to the nearby policy headquarters and registered them. If the individuals had no relatives or friends on Bali, and no plans for onward travel, the churches divided them into groups for placement in the local community. As of late January, more than 200 persons who arrived in this manner traveled onward to Java or elsewhere (including a small number of transmigrants from Java), in addition to the nearly 1,000 tourists on Lombok at the time of the riots.

7. As of late January, approximately 15 East Timorese refugees who wished to return home were still in Bali. Church representatives were working with UNHCR and IOM to arrange their repatriation. Beginning in early August 1999 (prior to the August 30 vote on independence), approximately 1,500 East Timorese fled to Bali. Most were repatriated in late October and November, but others have chosen to remain.

The same church network now assisting displaced persons from Lombok coordinated assistance for East Timorese when some of them fled to Bali last year. According to church workers, the experience is somewhat different, as the East Timorese were more fearful for their safety in Bali than are the persons from Lombok, primarily for political reasons (including the presence of some East Timorese pro-integration militia members on Bali). According to church workers, while the displaced persons from Lombok are mostly Christian (as were the East Timorese), the police and military are mostly Muslim, and the local population is primarily Hindu, religious differences have not yet been a problem. However, they also said that some members of the local population were beginning to resent yet another influx of displaced persons, given both the continuing economic difficulties on the island and the spreading sectarian violence throughout the country. Fearing potential violence (given that Bali experienced riots during last year's presidential election), the churches have placed most persons from Lombok in Tuka, a predominately Christian area west of Denpassar.

8. Displaced persons interviewed by USCR said they want to return home eventually but are afraid to do so at this point. Many said that, if they return, they fear the violence will recur.

9. On January 30, leaders and representatives from various religions on Bali, as well as student groups and NGOs, met for a dialogue. One representative said the people of Bali were working to strengthen relationships among different religious communities and to prevent the violence that has engulfed Lombok and so many other parts of Indonesia from spreading to Bali.

Recommendations from USCR site visit, January 11-30, 2000

Internally Displaced Persons from Lombok in Bali


To The Government of Indonesia:

1. Provide protection to all persons on Lombok who fear danger from sectarian violence, and help them leave the island if they wish. Ensure the protection of displaced persons from Lombok who are in Bali or elsewhere in Indonesia.

2. Continue providing humanitarian assistance to displaced persons in Bali, and increase such assistance as needed.

3. Take steps to ensure that no members of the military or police are inciting religious violence, or colluding with "provocateurs" of such violence, on Lombok or elsewhere. Investigate any reports of such collusion and bring the perpetrators to justice.

To NGOs and the international community:

4. Monitor the situation on Bali to determine if and when to provide assistance to the displaced persons from Lombok. NGOs already working in Indonesia should take particular note of the assistance needs in Bali as well as in Lombok.

5. Work to promote religious tolerance throughout Indonesia, and press Indonesia to bring to justice those accused of inciting religious violence.