Ambon's refugees are no better off after six years 
M. Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon

For the people displaced by the Ambon conflict, the nightmare is far from over.

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. 

Western Seram refugee coordinator La Ali Wabula said 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, ever since the conflict 
broke out in 1999, but we still haven't received our rights from the 
government," Wabula told The Jakarta Post in Ambon. 

He said refugees in western Seram were spread over a number of locations, 
including Waitibu, Wralohi, Siompu, Kalibaru, Nurue and Kamal villages, as well 
as throughout Maluku regency and in Ambon city. 

The issue has been compounded by a lack of funding and solid data on the number 
of refugees. 

The Maluku Social Services Office says that there are currently 9,755 refugee 
families, or 48,775 people, but this has not been verified. Maluku Governor 
Karel Albert Ralahalu said that there was not solid data available on the 
number of refugees in Maluku that had not received aid. 

He said the data at the social services office was a combination of the refugee 
numbers submitted by regencies and municipalities but needed to be verified. 

He said that if the number of refugees was verified in the next two months, his 
administration would set aside money from the provincial, regency and municipal 
budgets for the refugees. 

"We have all agreed to it, including the legislature. A team will validate and 
verify the data once more in order to determine the exact figure," said 

Following the central government's decision to stop allocating refugee funds in 
2008, the provincial administration, together with regency and municipal 
administrations, decided to use a budget sharing program to fund work. 

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

The Maluku provincial administration officially handed over the authority of 
handling the refugee program to municipal and regency administrations as of 
June 11. 

However, a number of groups have urged that refugee command posts established 
by the provincial administration be audited. 

"State auditors must audit the command posts before disbanding them to account 
for the use of refugee funds to the public, because there are no official 
accounts on the amount of refugee funds channeled to Maluku so far," said 
Maluku Refugees Coalition chairman Pieter Pattiwaelapia. 

The head of the Ambon chapter of the Muslim Students Union, Bobby Tianotak, 
concurred, saying that the humanitarian problem that was triggered by sectarian 
riots would have been resolved long ago had the refugee handling program been 
done in an honest and transparent manner. 

"It's very unfortunate the humanitarian problem has otherwise benefited some 
people seeking profits. The relevant institutions, like the Corruption 
Eradication Commission and the prosecutor's office, should be proactive in 
investigating whether or not refugee funds have been used as they should, 
especially by the social office and refugee command posts," said Tianotak. 

The government is unsure of the total amount of money already sent to Maluku, 
but it is likely to amount to more that Rp 1 trillion (approximately US$111 

Maluku legislature Vice Speaker Sudarmo, said irresponsible persons were 
responsible for the protracted refugee issues and that residents had falsely 
claimed to be refugees and some refugees had received more aid than others, 
while corrupt civil servants had also taken money meant for aid. 

"The law must be upheld. Whoever is wrong and is proven to have misappropriated 
refugee funds must be punished," said Sudarmo

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