Newspaper article International New York Times

Indonesia Offers Shelter, and Uncertainty

Newspaper article International New York Times

Indonesia Offers Shelter, and Uncertainty

Article excerpt

Aid groups are concerned that conditions at the camps are unsanitary and could potentially spread disease.

Mohammed Salim sat on a straw mat in an open-air tent, trying to avoid the stifling midday heat.

Mr. Salim, a 23-year-old Rohingya from Myanmar, still appeared to be recovering from dehydration and mild malnutrition. He was among the 433 migrants from Myanmar, also known as Burma, and Bangladesh who had been aboard a distressed vessel found by journalists on May 14, adrift in the Andaman Sea near Thailand and Malaysia. They had been on the boat for three months, abandoned by their captain and crew, and were desperate for food and water.

Since their boat landed on the northern coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra last week, the passengers have lived here, in tents on the grounds of an abandoned paper factory that has now become a government migrant camp.

They sleep on mats or wooden pallets on the muddy ground, a thin sarong for a blanket, and bathe by collecting buckets of water from a well. In a clinic staffed by volunteer and government doctors and nurses, the ceiling is caving in and some patients lay on the floor with IV drips in their arms.

Mr. Salim dreams of living in "a strong country," he said, "America, Australia, anywhere."

For the foreseeable future, however, Mr. Salim and the more than 1,800 other migrants who arrived in Indonesia this month are not going anywhere.

Indonesia's minister of social affairs, Khofifah Indar Parawansa, whose ministry oversees the camps, said the migrants would remain where they are.

"In my opinion, the existing camps now are good enough," she said in an interview, adding that the shelters provided for Indonesians who were displaced by a volcano eruption in 2014 were similar. "Of course, this is Indonesian standard."

In addition to the paper factory in the village of Bayeun, just outside the town of Langsa in Aceh Province, the migrants are living in similar conditions in three other camps in Aceh, including warehouses in a small state-owned port that is also near Langsa, and an abandoned beachfront government compound near the town of Lhoksukon, a two-hour drive to the north, where they sleep on concrete floors.

Aid groups are concerned that the conditions are unsanitary, could potentially spread disease, and were never intended for long- term habitation.

"These are short-term camps," said Steve Hamilton, deputy chief of mission in Jakarta for the International Organization for Migration. "None of them are really designed to be lived in. If a storm comes through -- they are not designed for storms."

While Mr. Hamilton credits the government with finding immediate shelter for the migrants, he and other aid workers said the government needed to quickly come up with a medium-term housing solution such as dormitories.

"This was never intended to be a longer-term site," said Thomas Vargas, chief representative in Jakarta, Indonesia, for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "It was an attempt by the government, and with the best of intentions, to provide for everybody when they arrived and meet urgent needs. But I think everyone understands there are some gaps to fill and things to be addressed in terms of taking care of sanitary conditions and taking care of women and children."

International aid organizations say the migrants need facilities including canteens and schools for hundreds of children.

Last week, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to take in as many as 7,000 migrants for up to a year. …

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