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Aceh refugees wary of camp move

BBC News - February 15, 2005

Tim Johnston, Jakarta – Seven weeks after December's tsunami devastated Indonesia's Aceh province, the immediate crisis is under control. The authorities are now looking to medium-term coping strategies for the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes and livelihoods.

For the first time, people are moving into the barracks-like camps that are to be their homes for up to two years. But victims and aid agencies have expressed worries about the move, which they fear may limit self-sufficiency. The first refugees moved into the hastily-built camps outside the Acehnese capital, Banda Aceh, on Tuesday morning.

Long history

The government has said it might have to house as many as 100,000 of the 400,000 survivors in camps across the province. But although the camps, with their showers and kitchens, represent an improvement for people who are currently living in tents and government buildings, many people still do not want to go.

There has been a long and bloody separatist revolt in Aceh and the government has used camps before – to deny guerrillas access to the population. It is a tactic that is still remembered with horror in the province. The government says it is not going to force anyone into the camps this time and there are good reasons for people to move. It is easier to get health, education, and other assistance to the survivors but these arguments appear to carry little weight with many of the people most affected.

Aid workers are also concerned. They say camps in general tend to encourage aid dependency and are keen for people to start looking for long-term solutions immediately. Some UN agencies say that although they will provide help to people who do decide to go to the camps, they will not assist in building the barracks or encouraging people to move there.

The recovery and rebuilding operation will take years. Even before it gets under way in earnest, the clean-up operation needs to finish. There is a long way to go in Aceh. Seven weeks on, nearly 1,000 bodies a day are still being pulled from the wreckage.