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Displaced Ahmadis losing hope for normal life
Panca Nugraha, The Jakarta Post, Mataram
After four years of living in limbo at the Wisma Transito shelter in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), dozens of families from Jamaah Ahmadiyah say they are losing hope of a return to normal life and freedom from refugee status.
“I hope to be able to return to my place of origin, but I feel it’s becoming more difficult now. After living as a refuge for almost four years, we are even regarded as non-existent,” Ahmadiyah refugee Zuhaer Majid, 44, told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
A group of housewives were in a makeshift kitchen when the Post visited the camp. Some toddlers played on the verandah, while others ate lunch. One plate of fried rice was shared between four.
“The price of rice has surged to Rp 7,500 [75 US cents] a kilogram. We have to be frugal. The important thing is to feed our children,” said a 28-year old mother of two, Nuraini.
Nuraini’s husband Zuhri, 34, helps out at a food stall and earns Rp 15,000 per day. The couple must make sure this is enough for food and pocket money for their eldest child who is in fourth grade.
The local social welfare office stopped providing the refugees with assistance (in the form of rice and side dishes) in the mid 2008, and the group has had to struggle to make ends meet ever since.
The other 33 refugee families, comprising at least 126 people staying at the Wisma Transito shelter camp.
The Ahmadiyah refugees also stopped receiving rice from the rice-for-the-poor program. Tapped water is restricted at the shelter. Power supplies were cut six months ago because of the group’s outstanding electricity bills.
The dozens of elementary students learning there have had to study only during daylight hours because of the lack of lighting at night, except for candles and kerosene lamps.
On Feb. 4, 2009, the group will have been enduring at the shelter camp for exactly four years since being forced by a Muslim mob from their homes in Ketapang hamlet, West Lombok, in early 2006.
The Ahmadiyah refugees live in three 20-by-8-meter barracks at the shelter. The rooms for each family, measuring 2.5-by-3 meters each, are only divided by cloth, used banners and sarongs tied up with plastic string.
The NTB provincial administration stopped providing relief aid to the refugees since the middle of 2008, but has also not given them permission to return to their village.
The refugees have taken up odd jobs, working, for example, as builders or vendors to meet their basic needs.
According to refugee coordinator Syahidin, four people have died at the shelter since they moved there, and 11 babies have been born.
Various efforts have been made to resolve the issue. In their latest effort, the Ahmadis appealed to the Mataram mayor for permission to live within the city, but he has not responded yet.
“We have abided by the joint-ministerial decree banning Ahmadiyah activities, expressed the syahadat confession of faith in public proving we are also Muslim, but why is our status still unclear?” Syahidin said.
In March 2009, 17 Ahmadiyah families took the initiative to return to their village, but shelved the plan because the NTB provincial administration and West Lombok regency administrations promised to compensate them for their properties in Ketapang, so that they would not return, but move elsewhere.