Homeless in Ambon, again

Lacking privacy and adequate sanitation while facing an uncertain future, Muslims and Christians alike suffer in temporary shelters after the latest sectarian violence in Ambon, Indonesia.

By Petrus Oratmangun for Khabar Southeast Asia in Ambon

July 26, 2012
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When a brawl broke out among spectators at a parade on Pattimura Day in Ambon in May, no one died. Dozens were injured by shrapnel, arrows and hurled stones, three homes were burned, and three were wrecked.

  • Christians displaced by violence in Ambon, Indonesia in September 2011 and May 2012 have taken shelter in the Regional House of Representatives building, where families are strained by the lack of privacy. [Petrus Oratmangun/Khabar]

    Christians displaced by violence in Ambon, Indonesia in September 2011 and May 2012 have taken shelter in the Regional House of Representatives building, where families are strained by the lack of privacy. [Petrus Oratmangun/Khabar]

  • Hundreds of Muslims from Waringin village in Ambon city, Indonesia have been living in the Gotong Royong Market building after their homes were burned in communal rioting in September 2011. The roof leaks and the building's single bathroom is filthy. [Petrus Oratmangun/Khabar]

    Hundreds of Muslims from Waringin village in Ambon city, Indonesia have been living in the Gotong Royong Market building after their homes were burned in communal rioting in September 2011. The roof leaks and the building's single bathroom is filthy. [Petrus Oratmangun/Khabar]

For Ambon, with its recent history of far worse sectarian violence, the incident was limited, its impact minor. But not for Yoga Papilaja, who was made homeless once again.

"My family and I have fled three times. We are tired of being displaced," says Yoga, whose home in Mardika Village, a neighbourhood of Ambon, had just been rebuilt after sectarian rioting last year.

So Yoga and 26 other Mardika residents rejoined other displaced Christians living at the Regional House of Representatives building (DPRD) and another government office since mobs torched 32 Mardika homes in September 2011.

"People whose homes weren't burned, fled out of fear," Yoga told Khabar Southeast Asia. Only six families returned to Mardika, among them Yoga's, because they own land there and were tired of life in the shelter.

Now, he says, he'll find a different place to build a home, despite the difficulty of leaving the place where he spent his childhood among extended family.

Maria Maruanaya, 23, a mother of two, describes the tensions of living in such a public place. "We just don't feel comfortable here, because this is the DPRD building," she said.

The situation becomes worse when the building is used for a plenary session.

"We take the children to the back of the building; we're embarrassed if they are noisy. The meetings sometimes last until 12.00am," she told Khabar.

The lack of privacy also creates marital tensions. "Husbands come home drunk and force the wife to have sex while the children and neighbors are around," she says.

It's one of many reasons she wants to go home as soon as possible, but the homes have not been rebuilt, and promised funds have not been delivered, she says.

The situation is equally awful at the Gotong Royong Market, filled with Muslims who fled when hundreds of homes were burned to the ground in September in Waringin Village, another city neighbourhood.

Ode Hasan, 50, has been at the market since October. At first, the local government, various organisations and groups were attentive. But then the donations of rice, eggs, tinned fish and instant noodles dried up. "The help only lasted a month, then no more," he says.

The site is becoming filthy. One toilet and wash room is used by everyone, both men and women. Waste water from the second floor is leaking from a broken pipe. And since the rainy season started in June, the bottom floor of the three-story market has been flooded with stagnant water.

Ode points to where several sheets of fibre roofing are missing. "You can see the clouds, so how can we escape the rain?" he asks.

"We want to go back to our homes in Waringin, but the houses aren't finished." Like the temporary residents of the DPRD, he says promised funding has not been delivered in full.

Tragically, Muhammad Nizar, 56, watched his wife, 61-year-old Endang Nizar, die of a stroke in the market two weeks ago. He believes being forced to flee their home made her blood pressure soar.

"My wife was thinking too much about our uncertain situation," he says.

Nizar and Hasan want more than just their homes back. They want peace.

"The government has got to seek a lasting peace. It will be in vain, if people return to their homes and they are burned again. We're asking security officials to really, truly provide security and safety to the people of Ambon," Nizar says.

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