06/16/2005, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Some 1,500 refugees are back on the Maluku Islands, but housing for them is not yet ready

The refugees were displaced by sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims. The returnees complain the government has not handed out the promised compensation; what new housing has been built lacks basic facilities.

Ambon (AsiaNews) – The refugees displaced by sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims are going home to the Maluku Islands, but without receiving the compensation promised by the government. What is more, they are moving into poorly built houses.

The Crisis Centre of the diocese of Ambon announced that after four years on the Kei Islands, some 1,500 Christian refugees have returned to Kasui, an island to the south-east of Ceram Island. They are to be immediately followed by another 500 who had found refuge in Ambon City. Recently, 436 families (1,859 people) started to return to the village of Kariu, on island of Haruku (east of Ambon Island).

The refugees were welcomed by Muslim residents but complain that the government has failed to compensate them for their losses and has been unable to build proper housing after their own homes were damaged as a result of sectarian clashes.

The strife, which lasted from 1999 till 2001, caused the death of 5,000 people and 500,000 refugees.

Some 108 families lodged a protest for the government's failure to allocate funds for housing reconstruction; additional hundreds of families have objected to the new housing units because they lacked windows, kitchens and bathrooms.

Governor Karel Albert Ralahalu, who accompanied the refugees on their way home, said he would take the necessary measures against the contractors that built the houses; he also said he would find out the real number of refugees.

Both problems are related to Indonesia's endemic corruption.

Some have even suggested that the May 16 terrorist attack in the village of Loki (Semar Island) was carried out to turn public opinion away from scandals related to reconstruction in the archipelago.

Refugees themselves have also added to corruption problem. Their total number remains unknown. With the aid of complacent local officials, many of them have registered their names several times at different places in order to receive more compensation.

On the northern part of the archipelago, which is located north-east of Jakarta, another problem is looming—many children are dying of malnutrition.

From January to March of this year, the Health Department in the northern Maluku Islands reported 706 known cases of malnutrition among children under the age of five. Often the cause is not poverty but ignorance.

Numerous residents lack basic knowledge about the principles of a healthy diet and are unaware of methods for proper hygiene to prevent infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.

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