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Uneasiness after sectarian violence in Ambon

Indonesia, October 22, 2011

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  • Uneasiness after sectarian violence in Ambon
  • socialization_idps.jpg
    Mercy Corps is helping families living in "IDP centers" after fleeing their homes in recent sectarian violence. Photo: Remy Hebert/Mercy Corps Photo: socialization_idps.jpg

It has been over a month since conflict erupted again in Ambon, bringing back memories of the religious conflict which for many was a terrible but distant memory.

Eight people were killed and thousands displaced on Sept. 11. The houses of approximately 500 households were burned to the ground. On the surface, life has returned to normal — but not for 5,000 people in the five IDP centres that Mercy Corps Maluku is helping by distributing hygiene kits and other humanitarian assistance.

The centers are hot, crowded and dirty. Not everyone living in them lost their home that night. But many who fled homes that still exist have not yet returned. Despite reassurances from the Government that it is safe to do so, they are simply too afraid.

For others whose houses have been destroyed, they must wait for the Government to fulfill its pledge to rebuild the hundred of houses that were burned or badly damaged. They hope it will happen this year, but they don’t know for sure. One lady explains that this is the third time her house has been burned down. She cannot think about the future just yet.

When the Mercy Corps team arrived to conduct a socialization meeting in for the humanitarian distribution program in one centre, the meeting became a Q&A session between IDPs and the government and army representatives who came to participate.

When will you re-build our houses?

When will you find us a better place to stay where we can have better facilities?

How can you guarantee it will be safe for us when we go home?

What was supposed to be a brief meeting in the afternoon continues well into the evening.

It doesn't help that there is still sporadic violence, despite heavy army and police presence. Two bombs exploded yesterday and a few days before that three more houses were burned down after a drunken brawl.

In fact, alcoholism has now become the newest threat to security. Last night, a small team of staff went to one of the larger IDP centres, Gotong Royong. The centre is an unused upper floor of a market. More than 90 families are living here living in an open space with little privacy and limited toilet and washing facilities. Sleeping on a hard tile floor has taken its toll and many are complaining of aches and pains; Mercy Corps will be supplying mattresses in the coming week. As we stand around talking to some of the people, children jumping up and down in from of the camera as I try to take photos, a loud commotion breaks out followed by the sound of breaking glass.

People drop what they are doing, some looking around confused and frightened, others rush downstairs to the source, including us. There is blood everywhere. Some men are trying to placate an elderly man who has smashed a window in drunken rage. As the situation calms down, some men look for a rag to mop up the pool of blood. Some of the mothers pick up their small children and carry them back upstairs.

Such occurrences are common in the IDP centres, where alcoholism is rife. Everybody hopes that life will return to sleepy normality in Ambon soon, but when that will happen, nobody really knows.