Rescue workers discriminate against ethnic Chinese tsunami victims

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – In some refugee camps in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, aid and rescue workers are believed to discriminate against Sino-Indonesians, who are denied food and medicines, forced to dig graves, robbed and, in some cases, killed. These information have been spread through short message service SMS. Benny G. Setiono, chairman of the Indonesian Chinese Association (INTI) published a statement quoting some messages and trying to appease their effect.

Some messages claim that some Sino-Indonesians are not allowed to board flights to Medan or safer areas away from Banda Aceh; others say that they are being made a scapegoat for the tsunami.

In the statement sent via e-mail, Mr Setiono urges Indonesians "not to be influenced" by the sectarian campaign that a handful of unknown individuals are waging for political gain.

Reporting that INTI volunteers working in refugee camps in Aceh and North Sumatra had witnessed minor incidents of discrimination, Mr Sentiono noted that they are to be expected given the extraordinary and desperate situation.

"For us," he added, "these things are morally acceptable since both ethnic Chinese and Acehnese have had the same experiences, i.e. shortages of food and medical supplies and rescue workers too hard pressed to bring humanitarian aid".

Sino-Indonesians are discriminated and robbed because locals think they are the wealthier part of the population. Even though they, too, were affected by the tsunami, they are thought to have been luckier.

To make his point, INTI's president reports a case of discrimination: a Chinese family was told to pay 400 rupiahs (US$ 44) to have the body of one of its members removed by public transit motorbike.

Similarly, some Sino-Indonesians fleeing Banda Aceh by plane were forced to pay higher prices for their tickets to strangers who are profiting of the situation to make money.

However, Sino-Indonesians have not been the only victims of extortions; rich Achenese have been as well.

To counter the anti-Chinese campaign, INTI is setting up a centre in Medan to collect information about discrimination and relay it to the public and the media. (MH)

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