Police, volunteers in search for missing Shiite refugees
Paper Edition | Page: 2
Local police and volunteers are still conducting a search for dozens of Shiite refugees, who are believed to be hiding in forests and other areas in Sampang regency, Madura, East Java, following an attack on their community on Sunday.
The volunteers said that it took some effort to persuade the refugees they had located to move to temporary shelters.
“We estimate that there are still more than 58 people out there,” said Andy Irfan, the coordinator of the East Java Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), on Thursday.
Volunteers said that they had to persuade the Shiites, one by one, to come in as the refugees were afraid of meeting strangers.
The rocky condition of the Sampang area has also hampered the evacuation process.
On Sunday, hundreds of Shiites were left homeless after their homes were burnt by an angry mob in a violent attack on their community by members of an anti-Shia group in Sampang.
Two Shia followers, identified as Mochamad Kosim, 50, and his brother Tohir, 46, died of machete wounds, while four others were injured.
The East Java Police have arrested named one man, identified as R, in connection with the violence and will charge him under five separate articles of the Criminal Code.
After the attack, many refugees were evacuated to an indoor-tennis court. As of Thursday, there were 251 refugees, including 64 children in the shelter.
It is reported that the children need psychological counseling to help them recover from the trauma of the incident.
Even though the incident has caused trauma, many of the refugees expressed their desire to return home as soon as possible in order to get back to a normal life. They urged the government to take firm action.
“A number of children, who have been accepted at schools outside Sampang, want to go back to school immediately,” said Muadz Muhammad, a volunteer from Ahlul Bait Indonesia (ABI).
Muadz said that the men wanted to go to work on their tobacco plantations, while others had decided to search for work outside Sampang.
Rosyid, 23, a member of the Shia community from Bluuran village, Karang Penang subdistrict, said that he could not take it anymore staying at the shelter.
“I want to return home soon and work on my tobacco plantation,” said Rosyid, adding that he intended to rebuild his home in Sampang.
“I was born there. I lived there. If I die, I want to be buried there too. I don’t want to go to any other place,” he insisted.
The government has considered relocating the group, saying that the move could prevent future attacks from the majority Sunni community.
The idea, however, has been condemned by activists as it could trigger further discrimination against Shia followers.
Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi tried to counter the criticism by saying that relocation was only one alternative.
“The government has never made the decision to remove Shia followers from the area in order to protect them from future attacks. It’s only an option. East Java Governor Soekarwo is discussing it with the people. And we promise that we will never act upon it if the Shia followers object to leaving the area,” Gamawan said on the sidelines of a plenary meeting at the House of Representatives on Thursday.
“We don’t want to be accused of forcefully uprooting people from their homes,” he said, adding that the government would also support Shia followers in their efforts to rebuild their homes, which were burnt down during the brutal attack by their Sunni neighbors on Sunday.
Gamawan said that the government would facilitate school programs at the shelter so that the children could continue their studies until a permanent solution was achieved.