One month after Mount Merapi erupted in Java, displaced families are being offered incentives by the Indonesian government to start afresh on the less populated island of Borneo. As well as having their transport costs paid, refugees would be given two hectares of land and provided with living costs for six months, according to an official from the Manpower and Transmigration office. In Java, around 60,000 refugees are living in temporary shelter following the volcanic eruptions.
In the southern Mentawai islands, struck by a tsunami in the same week the volcano erupted, around 550 houses were destroyed and another 200 damaged, according to the National Disaster Management Agency. This destruction displaced 11,400 people, who have been moved to the districts of North Pagai, South Pagai, South Sipora and Sikakap. An estimated 40 million dollars is being spent by local and national authorities on reconstruction and support. This money is being allocated to repair damaged infrastructure for water, sanitation and communications networks, as well as for housing.
Most of the displaced families on the Mentawi islands are still living in tents and the government plans to build 1,000 temporary shelters and 1,600 permanent homes for survivors. The authorities also aim to relocate families who were not directly affected by the tsunami, but who wish to move to higher ground. But certain non-governmental organisations in the region are worried about the proposals to move communities away from their villages and sources of livelihoods. Some farmers do not wish to abandon their fields and be moved to wooded areas inland.
The relocation incentives offered to families affected by Mount Merapi’s eruptions are also being questioned by some in the country. Transmigration schemes began while Indonesia was still a Dutch colony and continued after World War II, when the government wanted thousands of people to move to less populated parts of the Indonesian archipelago of islands. Critics are concerned about further invasion of important natural forest areas and for the rights of indigenous groups.
Families living in the temporary shelters on Java are also working hard to keep their communities together. When supplies arrive at different sites, many of the younger people are tweeting and texting others to keep everyone informed about the goods arriving, whether it’s baby clothing, food or blankets. One refugee spoke of a real “solidarity in a time of crisis”. When asked about the relocation package, a father of four who lost his house in the eruptions, expressed his reservations about leaving Java. “I still have a piece of land....and my kids are still in school.” Despite the hot clouds and ash which have descended from the volcano, many still regard the ash-strewn countryside in this part of Java as the only place they want to call home.