Displaced and haunted by violence in Ambon

After ten years in temporary housing, many people displaced by conflict have given up on going back to their original homes

By Petrus Oratmangun in Ambon and Yenny Herawati in Madiun for Khabar Southeast Asia

July 25, 2012
Reset Text smaller larger

The air is stuffy and humid, and the rainy season has made the tin roof leak in the Pattiradjawane home.

  • People fleeing violence rush to climb aboard a ship at the port of Ambon, Indonesia on February 28th, 1999, after a bomb explosion the day before. The conflict in Ambon from 1999-2002 displaced some 700,000 people, according to UNICEF. [Supri/Reuters]

    People fleeing violence rush to climb aboard a ship at the port of Ambon, Indonesia on February 28th, 1999, after a bomb explosion the day before. The conflict in Ambon from 1999-2002 displaced some 700,000 people, according to UNICEF. [Supri/Reuters]

  • This building in Passo Village, a Christian area near Ambon City, was meant as temporary housing for people displaced by violence in Ambon in 2002. But families like the one pictured here have never left, due to security fears, new job opportunities and lingering trauma. [Petrus Oratmangun/Khabar].

    This building in Passo Village, a Christian area near Ambon City, was meant as temporary housing for people displaced by violence in Ambon in 2002. But families like the one pictured here have never left, due to security fears, new job opportunities and lingering trauma. [Petrus Oratmangun/Khabar].

''When the roof is leaking, we must put our children on the table," Mei Pattiradjawane, 33, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

The Pattiradjawanes share the building in Passo Village, near Ambon City,Indonesia with eight other families. Each family has about 500 square feet of living space, separated by thin wood boards. It is part of a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs), hastily constructed in the wake of the sectarian violence in Ambon from 1999-2002.

Hundreds of similar camps are spread throughout the province of Maluku.

Ten years later, the Pattiradjawane family and many others still live in such camps, despite heartbreaking conditions – due to security issues, job opportunities and lingering trauma.

Mei and Roy Pattiradjawane fled Kariuw village in Central Maluku and moved into this building in 2002. Later the same year, they received resettlement funds to buy a house – but didn't do so, they acknowledge. Today, Roy is a labourer in Ambon City. Like many people in Passo Village, his family members are no longer registered as IDPs.

"Most of us living here already consider Passo as a home. We do not want to go back to our hometown because there are no jobs. Our nutmeg trees were destroyed during the conflict. We opted to stay in Ambon, hoping we will get better jobs and education for our kids, although there is no more government aid," Roy told Khabar.

"We choose to live in Passo because we are in fear of returning home," added Jersen Marian, 56, another resident of the building.

More than 700,000 people were displaced by violence in Ambon from 1999-2002, and some 30,000 had yet to be resettled by early 2011, according to UNICEF.

"The conflict never ends"

The trauma wrought by the violence has spilled beyond Maluku province, lodged in the hearts and minds of survivors.

Yonara Wedak left Ambon in 2002 with her husband, using resettlement funds to find a new home in East Java. Even there, for her, the conflict lives on.

"Every time I think about what happened in Ambon, it frightens me. The conflict never ends. I never feel safe," she told Khabar in Madiun, where she now lives.

"All the blood and memories are still clear in my head. I still can imagine those suffering refugees, hungry kids, many tears and diseases – truly heartbreaking. I guess this is the price we have to pay for the conflict," she said.

"Most refugees like me will be traumatized hearing guns shootings, the military car sirens, and the crying of a mother losing a child and a child losing everything."

One such child is Manina Pessau, a refugee from Central Maluku, who now lives in Madiun after more than ten years in a refugee camp. She arrived at the camp at the age of nine, on her own.

"As a nine year old girl, not knowing anything – where could I go? And not knowing anybody in the camps was really painful. I think that was the worst pain I could remember. I learned that both my parents were dead a year later."

She seems hesitant to discuss the past, and how she managed to survive on her own so long.

Initially, refugees received funding from the government and national and international relief agencies. "However, it has been awhile, and we have had to struggle on our own," she told Khabar.

Seeds of conflict

The roots of conflict in the "Spice Islands" can be traced to the sixteenth century, when the region's rich supply of nutmeg and cloves brought Dutch colonists and Christianity. Dutch policy provided Christians with better land, security, and education, sowing the seeds for alienation with the Muslim community.

Centuries later, Jihadists from Muslim-dominated areas of Indonesia and even the Philippines travelled to the Maluku islands to "defend" their Muslim brothers, escalating the conflict to its worst ever outbreak from 1999-2002 in which as many as 9,000 may have died.

"The situation in Ambon is one example of a latent conflict in Indonesia. The conflict itself is deeper than just a religious conflict," said Sutoro Eko, a senior researcher at the Institute for Research and Empowerment (IRE) Yogyakarta.

Conflict flared again in September 2011, when rumors that a taxi driver had been tortured to death sparked riots, leading to six deaths, 89 injuries, and another wave of IDPs.

"After the conflict we did a data collection, and we found 278 units of houses were damaged, 195 units were burned by fires, another 30 units were severely damaged and another 53 homes suffered minor damage," Jan Haumasse, the Ambonese chairman for IDPs, told Khabar.

The displaced crowded into mosques, elementary schools, and government buildings, numbering some 8,990 people, local government officials said.

Violence broke out again during a Pattimura Day procession in May 2012, due to a conflict between factions of spectators about who had the right to carry the torch honoring the independence hero. Fifty civilians were injured in the brawl, and three homes were set ablaze.

Protecting one another

In both cases, the central government reacted fast, dispatching riot troops and conducting rigorous community outreach to prevent a repeat of the sectarian warfare of a decade ago.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono praised growing religious harmony in Ambon when it successfully hosted the 24th National Musabaqah Tilawatil Qur'an, or Qur'an Recital Competition, in June.

Martina de Brito, the wife of an Ambonese pastor, tells how her family was protected by Muslim leaders during the conflict in 2011.

"Our house was among the Muslim community. During the conflict, people were attacking all these places. My family was lucky that the imam in the mosque was helping us to find safe locations until the conflict subsided."

Martina refused to say more, protecting the person who protected her.

"You never know when the conflict is going to happen again in the future. At this point, I want to keep my savior safe. Media spotlights can be dangerous for him," she added.

Reader Comments
CLICK HERE to Add a Comment
    • David Hutagalung
      December 15, 2013 @ 01:12:49PM
    • There is no need to point fingers and go to war. In my place in North Tapanuli, religious people are very tolerant. Remember, religion does not teach us to hate one another.
    • Pascal Pattiradjawane
      June 6, 2013 @ 08:06:37PM
    • I love all of you, Muslims, Christians , Buddhists, Non believers, animals, plants, all of you are my family, be happy to live, be happy to be, help everybody, and everybody helps you!!!
    • flora yohanes
      August 24, 2012 @ 09:08:00PM
    • We shouldn't argue about who's right and who's wrong...make peace...repent...unite our hearts to keep the peace in our neighborhoods...practice tolerance...life in this world is temporary...love and care for you fellow man as you love yourself...and most importantly remember our creator.
    • ibnu abbas atholaky
      August 9, 2012 @ 05:08:46AM
    • This is how Muslims act when a non-Muslim enters the protection of a Muslim. The non-Muslim cannot be allowed to be handed over to Muslims to be killed. Even in times of war, Muslims are prohibited from cutting down trees, killing livestock, harming or killing women, children and the weak from the enemy side...the question is why are women, children and the weak from the Muslim side being slaughtered? Intolerable...

Add A Comment (Comments Policy)* denotes required field

Poll

A caliph is freely chosen by Muslims everywhere for his wisdom and spiritual qualifications. The ISIL leader's proclamation of himself as caliph over all Muslims violates the principles of Islam.

View Results

Photo Essay


Worshippers read from the Qur'an at Jakarta's Istiqlal Grand Mosque on May 4th, as part of "One Day One Juz", a programme that encourages Muslims to live by Islam's holy book. More than 90% of Indonesia's 250 million people are moderate Muslims. [Adek Berry/AFP]

Hardliners threaten tolerance in Indonesia

Indonesia's tradition of moderate, tolerant Islam is under threat by hard-line groups who are imposing their conservative views on others and intimidating religious minorities.