Aceh: helping refugees rebuild their lives
The signing of a peace agreement in Helsinki in August 2005 between the Indonesian government and rebels of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has opened a new chapter in Indonesia's history. Now, after three decades of conflict, the ICRC is helping people rebuild their lives.
The sun was scorching down onto the deserted area of Leubok Kliet hamlet in Meurah Muliah sub-district, North Aceh, when the ICRC team arrived in late June. Towering areca nut trees and other tropical plants lined the dusty road, sheltering the crowd from the heat. About forty villagers – men and women, young and old – emerged from bushes and tents to greet the ICRC employees.
The children sat inside a makeshift meunasah (a small mosque) watching the grown-ups unload bags of farming tools from ICRC cars.
" Thanks to the ICRC, we can rebuild our lives here. Without their help, we would remain refugees. Before the ICRC came here, we could not laugh at all, " said TM Nurdin, the community leader and former chief of Leubok Kliet hamlet.
The ICRC has been making distributions in this village since February 2006, improving the roads as well to facilitate deliveries. The local authority played its part too in repairing a 30 metre long bridge leading to the hamlet.
Almost all the buildings in this area were burned down in 2000 during intensive fighting between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) armed groups. Most of the villagers left their homes and took refuge with relatives in nearby villages.
They returned to their own homes during the day to tend their gardens but spent the nights with their relatives.
Nurdin said he fled with his family to nearby Darussalam village in 2003, after a group of people set fire to two of his houses and damaged another one.
" It was like a bad dream. One day you live a comfortable life , the next day you are left destitute, " he said after showing the team the ruins of his damaged house.
" However, we are happier today than we were, although we are still living in tents. Many of our children are distressed, though, especially on rainy days, " said Nurdin, who has 13 children.
A new start
After the signing of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005, the villagers gradually returned home and made a fresh start. After a series of initial assessments, the ICRC distributed tarpaulins and construction tools to help 30 households build shelter. A few days later, Nurdin informed the ICRC that more villagers were willing to go back provided that they receive similar support.
Nurdin said that the villagers still need more paid jobs to make ends meet. Today, they earn their living from selling areca nuts and cocoa beans. Unfortunately, many of the areca nut trees were destroyed during the conflict. He said the villagers also need more fertilizers and seedlings.
Apart from the suffering caused by the conflict, the tsunami of December 2004 added to the misery.
" Most people are very busy helping tsunami survivors but we hope they will not forget the victims of the conflict here. We need their support too, " Nurdin said.
In the past few months, the ICRC has been distributing tents, rehabilitating wells and building toilets in the village. Recently, it provided two small generators to run the water pumps.
Slowly but surely here and elsewhere in Aceh the situation is improving as people are working hard to rebuild their lives.