The Jakarta Post
National Police chief Gen. Idham Azis is scheduled to meet with people living on Galang Island in Riau Islands to discuss turning a former refugee camp on the island into an infectious disease hospital.
Locals have objected to the government’s plan to build a hospital specifically to treat infectious diseases on the island following the country's first confirmed cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). They claimed authorities had yet to tell them about the plan.
Galang district secretary Hardianus said the police general was scheduled to meet with locals on Sunday to explain the government’s plan.
"There are pros and cons with regard to building a hospital in the former Vietnamese refugee camp,” Hardianus told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.
Officials from Riau Island and Batam, as well as local councillors previously met with representatives of locals on Thursday, on the occasion of which the people voiced their objections to the plan.
“The National Police chief will come here to persuade residents to agree with the plan,” Hardianus went on to say.
Riau Islands Police health division head Sr. Comr. M. Haris confirmed to the Post that the police chief would visit the island on Sunday.
Indonesian Military (TNI) commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto and Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono visited the site on Wednesday. They were unable to say when the construction would begin but asserted construction would be completed within a month.
The Post observed on Thursday that a technical team from the ministry had started working on the site. Heavy equipment, such as cranes, were also seen at the site.
The hospital is expected to be able to accommodate 1,000 patients with 500 rooms, 2 percent of which would be designated as isolation rooms to comply with the recommended protocol of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Galang Island is located about 50 kilometers southeast of Batam, with a bridge connecting the two islands. The 80 hectare camp was used between 1975 and 1996 to house 250,000 Vietnamese refugees fleeing their homeland during the Vietnam War.
More than 12 million South Vietnamese fled after the war ended and sought political asylum in countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia; but many were cast ashore on the islands of Indonesia.
Initially managed by the United Nations during the refugee crisis, Galang Refugee Camp is now under the management of the Batam Indonesia Free Trade Zone Authority (BP Batam) and is maintained as a tourist attraction that draws both former refugees and tourists to Batam Island. Several facilities at the camp and horticultural crops have been preserved in the area.
Authorities have been working to persuade locals about the plan by disseminating information that was expected to calm them down.
"The Sulianti Saroso [Infectious Disease] Hospital [in Jakarta] is located among cramped residential areas. However, people are not affected by it,” Haris said. “We only need spare land of 2 meters from the infected patients as a precautionary measure.”
A local figure in Galang district , Anwar Sadat Pulungan, who has been living near the former refugee camp for more than 10 years, said he was worried about the plan.
"All residents in the area were surprised with the sudden announcement of the hospital being built here. Why not choose vacant island that has no residents? Don't build it here," Anwar said. (ars)