An estimated 600,000 to 1 million persons were internally displaced throughout Indonesia at the close of 2002. Four provinces – Maluku, Southeast Sulawesi, East Java, and North Sumatra – each hosted at least 100,000 displaced persons. An additional five provinces – North Maluku, North Sulawesi, Aceh, West Kalimantan, and Central Sulawesi – each hosted at least 10,000 displaced persons. Thousands more were displaced elsewhere in the archipelago, including Papua and the islands of Nusa Tenggara.

Exact numbers of the displaced were difficult to obtain. The Indonesian government began phasing out its provision of assistance to the internally displaced in certain areas and, therefore, stopped providing comprehensive estimates of the displaced. Nongovernmental sources suggested that government figures provided up to that point had been exaggerated, while new government estimates were likely to understate the extent of displacement.

Indonesia hosted nearly 29,000 refugees and asylum seekers at year's end. The vast majority, an estimated 28,000, were East Timorese, almost all of who were in the Indonesian territory of West Timor.

In addition to the East Timorese, about 500 refugees recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and more than 200 asylum seekers awaiting UNHCR status determinations were in Indonesia. Most were Iraqis, Afghans, and Iranians, while others were from Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Pakistan, and Algeria.

Indonesia is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention and has no system for granting refugee status. Indonesian authorities permit asylum seekers to remain in Indonesia while UNHCR assesses their claims, and allows UNHCR-recognized refugees to remain pending identification of a durable solution – usually resettlement in another country. During the year, more than 400 persons recognized under UNHCR's mandate were resettled to third countries.

At least 11,500 Indonesians were refugees and asylum seekers in other countries at year's end. More than 5,100 were refugees from the province of Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya) living in Papua New Guinea, while more than 1,300 Acehnese refugees and asylum seekers were in Malaysia. Acehnese, Moluccans, and other Indonesian asylum seekers (including ethnic Chinese Christians) were in various other countries, including more than 4,300 in the United States.

An estimated 3,000 Acehnese lived in Malaysia in refugee-like circumstances.

Events of 2002

Although Indonesia experienced comparative calm in several conflict-prone regions for much of 2002, fatal bombings on the islands of Bali and Sulawesi in the months of October and December, respectively, reconfigured the political landscape, both domestically and internationally. By year's end, the aftermath of the Bali bombing in particular had effectively overshadowed earlier events, including limited progress towards democratic and economic reform.

In February, Indonesia hosted delegates from 53 nations attending the Regional Conference on People Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons. The conference was jointly organized with Australia in response to the aftermath of an August 2001 incident in which Australia had refused entry to a ship carrying more than 400 mostly Afghan asylum seekers who had been rescued from a sinking Indonesian fishing vessel. The resulting non-binding resolution included provisions for police and intelligence cooperation, as well as improving the ability to detect forged travel documents.

In August, Indonesia's parliament approved a constitutional amendment to abolish the longstanding practice of reserving special parliamentary seats for the military, and – for the first time – to establish direct presidential and vice-presidential elections in 2004. Pro-democracy organizations had long advocated both changes to reduce the military's influence in domestic affairs.

In August and November, an Indonesian court handed down ten acquittals and two light sentences in cases of crimes against humanity stemming from 1999 massacres in East Timor. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, along with numerous human rights organizations, denounced Indonesia's judicial system as a sham.

Despite the signing of peace accords in two long troubled regions – Aceh and the Moluccas – and the absence of significant new internal displacement during the year, the administration of President Megawati Sukarnoputri fell far short of its highly publicized goal of resolving the displacement problem by the close of 2002. Even in areas with little new violence or displacement, the government lacked sufficient financial and institutional capacity to implement long-term solutions to internal displacement. In addition, military and communal violence continued to present obstacles to the return of the displaced in several regions.

Throughout most of the year, Indonesia – home to the largest Muslim population of any country – deflected heavy pressure and sharp criticism, particularly from the United States, concerning its failure to aggressively pursue suspected terrorists. The aftermath of September 11, 2001 had highlighted Indonesia's difficulties in balancing domestic demands of hard-line and moderate Muslim groups with international pressure to implement democratic reforms. Megawati had steadfastly maintained that terrorism posed no threat in, or from, Indonesia.

However, on October 12, a series of car bombs ripped through two nightclubs on the resort island of Bali, killing nearly 200 persons and wounding hundreds more. Within days, Indonesia approved an "anti-terrorism" decree that broadly defined terrorist activities and gave the government and the military increased powers to pursue suspected terrorists.

On October 19, Indonesia arrested the reputed head of a known terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah, in connection with the fatal blasts.

Internationally, the bombing bolstered sagging support within the United States for the restoration of U.S. military relations with the Indonesian armed forces – despite their role in widespread human rights violations – and intensified the effort to unearth terrorist networks in Southeast Asia.

Violence and Displacement in the Moluccas

Of the estimated 600,000 to 1 million internally displaced persons in Indonesia at the end of 2002, at least 300,000 were in the provinces of Maluku and North Maluku (each of which contains several islands, collectively comprising the island chain known as the Moluccas). Violence between Christians and Muslims, which began in 1999 and has claimed 5,000 to 10,000 lives, diminished during 2002 – largely because of the increased religious segregation that has come to characterize the Moluccas.

As in other regions of Indonesia, no single factor was responsible for the strife between the two religious communities, which coexisted peacefully for decades. Decades of "transmigration" – a program by which the government relocated some Indonesians, mostly Muslims from the island of Java, to less crowded islands elsewhere – gave Muslim communities an economic advantage, as did the political favoritism toward Muslims that characterized the former Suharto regime. Competition for jobs and power caused tensions that exploded violently upon Suharto's downfall in 1998.

Such conflicts have allowed the military to maintain its strong role in domestic affairs, which in turn gives the military access to logging, mining, and other economic ventures, as well as opportunities for bribery and extortion. Roughly two thirds of the military's revenue is from sources other than its budget.

In the Moluccas, members of Christian and Muslim communities have been both perpetrators and victims of violence. However, the presence of the Java-based Muslim warrior group Laskar Jihad ("holy war force") has led to larger numbers of Christian deaths. Founded in 2000, Laskar Jihad seeks to re-establish Indonesia as an Islamic state. Its leader, who fought with the Afghans against Soviet occupation, has called on all Muslims in the Moluccas to wage war against Christians.

A February 2002 peace accord in the Moluccas, signed by delegates of both Christian and Muslim factions, significantly raised hopes for an end to the bloodshed. However, Laskar Jihad continued to commit murder and other atrocities until early October, when the group reportedly made an internal decision to disband and began withdrawing its members from the Moluccas.

In May, 14 Christians were killed on the outskirts of Ambon when assailants set houses on fire and stabbed, shot, and hacked the occupants to death. Two months later, a bomb exploded near a camp for internally displaced persons (both Muslims and Christians) on the island of Halmahera in North Maluku, and a second bomb injured 53 Christians in Ambon.

Overall, however, violent conflict in the Moluccas greatly diminished during 2002. Little new internal displacement occurred, and security steadily improved, generally ensuring better delivery of humanitarian aid. However, international relief workers expressed concern that new government-imposed travel regulations and security procedures could disrupt their work.

Violence and Displacement in Sulawesi

At the end of 2002, the island of Sulawesi hosted more than 240,000 displaced persons as a result of Muslim-Christian clashes. The largest number, as many as 200,000 were in Southeast Sulawesi Province, including the island of Buton. In Central Sulawesi Province, only some 10,000 persons remained displaced at year's end, down sharply from more than 65,000 in August.

The violence on the island first erupted in Poso, in Central Sulawesi, in December 1998, with other significant outbreaks in 2000 and 2001. In December 2001, political and religious leaders from Poso signed the ten-point Malino Declaration – the fifth peace agreement over the years – pledging to end the fighting.

The level of violence fell and the region was relatively peaceful in the first several months of 2002. By June, however, bombings and shootings in the Poso area had resumed, causing numerous fatalities. Among the victims were at least two recently returned displaced persons. The violence prompted some new displacement and caused international non-governmental organizations to temporarily halt activities and withdraw staff.

The Malino Declaration expired July 31. In early August, following the murder of a local Muslim leader, Muslims attacked the Christian village of Matako, leaving homes and churches destroyed and seven residents injured. More violence followed, and by September more than 5,000 security officers were enforcing an uneasy peace. Despite the October announcement by Laskar Jihad that they would disband, and the subsequent withdrawal of some of their forces from Sulawesi, Human Rights Watch reported that fighters were still present in the province at year's end.

In South Sulawesi Province, terrorists blew up a McDonald's restaurant and a Toyota showroom in the city of Makassar. The family of an Indonesian cabinet official, who was also a principal negotiator in the Muslim-Christian peace talks, owned both buildings. Preliminary investigations of the bombings suggested the involvement of a local Islamic militia group, Laskar Jundullah, as well as potential ties to Jemaah Islamiyah, the group accused of the Bali bombing.

More than 2,500 people have died since the violence began in Sulawesi in 1998.


The year saw no major recurrence of the violence between ethnic Madurese and Dayaks and/or ethnic Malays that wracked two Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo in previous years. Despite a lack of new displacement, however, as many as 60,000 persons remained displaced in West Kalimantan. Some fled conflicts there in 1996–97 and 1999, while others fled violence in neighboring Central Kalimantan during 2001.

Most displaced were ethnic Madurese. In the 1920s, Dutch colonists recruited the Madurese – from the small island of Madura off the eastern tip of Java – for jobs on Kalimantan. In the 1970s, the Madurese, along with Javanese, migrated in greater numbers through the government's transmigration program. Throughout the decades, as the migrants prospered, the indigenous Dayaks became economically and politically marginalized. The disparities, combined with differing cultural practices, led to a series of violent conflicts between the Dayaks and Madurese, including in 1996–97. In 1999, ethnic Malays clashed with the Madurese and enlisted the help of Dayaks. The 1999 violence left at least 200 Madurese dead and some 35,000 displaced.

Most of the displaced were housed in "collective centers" such as public buildings and sports facilities in and around Pontianak, the provincial capital. In 2001, local Dayak and Malay leaders declared "deadlines" for the complete removal of the Madurese from West Kalimantan, and threatened further violence if the Madurese did not leave. The threats and inadequacy of alternatives kept most displaced in the centers throughout 2002. Although some accepted government relocation to other parts of the island, most displaced Madurese rejected the offer, demanding compensation for their losses.

In the neighboring province of Central Kalimantan, violence erupted in 2001 when Dayaks attacked Madurese. After two months of violence, at least 500 persons, mostly Madurese, were dead and some 140,000 to 180,000 Madurese were displaced. The displaced had either fled the province – mostly to West Kalimantan – or been evacuated to the island of Madura by the Indonesian navy.

Between 80,000 and 130,000 Madurese from Central Kalimantan remained in squalid conditions on Madura at the end of 2002. Their continued presence strained both physical resources and relations with local Madurese. Although at least 5,000 of the evacuees accepted integration on Madura through government housing assistance, as many as three-quarters of the displaced expressed a desire to return to Central Kalimantan. Most displaced Madurese had lived in Kalimantan for several generations, had extended families and landholdings there, and had few remaining ties to Madura.

Conditions in Central Kalimantan, however, made return difficult and risky. In May, dozens of Madurese families in Central Kalimantan fled to a transmigration transit camp in neighboring South Kalimantan after the decapitated body of a Madurese was found. In July, the decapitated bodies of four more ethnic Madurese were found. Although five indigenous Dayaks confessed to the killings, the local police chief said the killings were not ethnically motivated. Nevertheless, the killings prompted at least 44 ethnic Madurese to flee the island.

Uprooted Acehnese

At year's end, at least 15,000 persons were displaced within the province of Aceh (officially renamed Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam during the year), on the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra. As in previous years, the level of displacement in Aceh was difficult to determine both because the conflict frequently produced short-term displacement and because the displaced often received no organized assistance.

In addition to the displaced within Aceh, more than 120,000 persons who fled the violence there – in 2002 and in earlier years – remained displaced in the neighboring province of North Sumatra. Approximately ten percent of the displaced in North Sumatra were ethnic Acehnese, while 90 percent were Javanese transmigrants, many of who reported that they fled threats and abuse from Acehnese separatists.

By year's end, many of the displaced in North Sumatra had expressed an interest in returning to their homes in Aceh if their security could be assured. The central government began disbursing payments of $960 (8.75 million Indonesian Rupiah) to each family who agreed to return. The central government temporarily suspended the payments in mid-December when displaced persons accused local officials of embezzling part of the money.

Acehnese have sought independence for more than 130 years, first from Dutch colonizers and later from Indonesia. An armed independence movement known as GAM (the Free Aceh Movement) has been active in the resource-rich province since 1976. The Indonesian army has attacked villages and settlements that it suspects of harboring GAM members.

Both GAM and Acehnese civilians claim widespread human rights violations by the Indonesian military and police – including abduction, torture, rape, and mass killing. Victims include suspected guerrillas and GAM sympathizers, as well as human rights activists and student leaders promoting an independence referendum in Aceh, similar to that held in East Timor.

GAM has also perpetrated human rights violations, particularly by intimidating ethnic Javanese to leave Aceh. GAM has burned the homes of Javanese and extracted "security fees" from Javanese transmigrant villages. Both the military and GAM often wear civilian clothing and blame the opposition for attacks. More than 10,000 persons – mostly civilians – have died since the conflict began, including at least 1,300 in 2002.

After two years of difficult peace negotiations, GAM and the Indonesian government signed a landmark "Cessation of Hostilities Agreement" on December 9. Brokered by the Switzerland-based Henry Dunant Center (HDC) and assisted by intense international pressure for a resolution, the agreement promised the Acehnese broad regional autonomy, a legislative election in 2004, and increased control over revenues from the province's resources of timber, natural gas, and oil.

The agreement set timetables for both sides to cease hostilities, for GAM to disarm and deposit its weapons in designated peace zones, and for the Indonesian military to "reformulate its mandate from a strike force to a defensive force."

The agreement also reactivated the Joint Security Committee (JSC), which had been established in 2000 during a formal pause in the fighting, and charged it with monitoring the truce, investigating violations, specifying and applying sanctions, and visiting the home villages of displaced persons to assess security conditions. Deployment of 12 JSC teams – each of which includes representatives from the Indonesian police or military, GAM, and international monitors from either the Thai or Philippine military – began in late December. The full complement of 25 JSC teams had not been deployed by year's end.

Although violence in Aceh diminished significantly after the signing of the agreement, at least 14 new conflict-related deaths were recorded, some 2,000 persons were newly displaced, and numerous violations of the cease-fire were reported by year's end. HDC also reported increased complaints of extortion by all sides – the military, police, and rebels – but the Thai officer in charge of the international monitoring team, Major General Tanongsuk Tuvinun, viewed it as an indication that things were returning to normal and that people felt safe enough to file such complaints.

In December, representatives of 20 countries and international bodies such as the World Bank attended a Preparatory Conference on Peace and Reconstruction in Aceh and pledged funds to rebuild the province.

Papua (Irian Jaya)

Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya, hosted some 17,000 internally displaced persons at year's end. Most of the displaced were believed to be from either Maluku or North Maluku. Others were Papuans.

An independence movement known as the Free Papua Movement (OPM) has operated in Papua since Indonesia forcibly took control of the region in 1963. As in other provinces of Indonesia, decades of transmigration of Javanese Muslims and Jakarta's appropriation of revenues from resource exploitation have led to repeated clashes and displacement in Papua.

An autonomy bill, which nominally went into force on January 1, 2002, grants the province up to 80 percent of the revenues from forestry, fishing, gas, oil, and mining activities. At year's end, although the bill had yet to be implemented, the central government said that any further moves by Papua to gain independence would not be tolerated. Indonesian officials also proposed dividing Papua into three separate provinces. Many Papuans feared that such a division would increase the number of troops in the region.

Tensions were especially high along both sides of the Indonesian-Papua New Guinea border because of skirmishes between Indonesian military forces and the OPM. Thousands of members of the Java-based Laskar Jihad reportedly arrived in Papua – which is largely Christian – during 2002 and established training camps in three areas where large numbers of Muslim transmigrants reside.

In August, an ambush by unidentified gunmen near the huge copper and gold mine operated by the U.S.-based Freeport McMoran corporation left three persons dead, including two Americans, and 12 wounded. The incident garnered international attention and triggered an investigation by the U.S. government. In late December, two women – including the wife of the director of a Papuan human rights group – were shot and wounded when unidentified gunmen ambushed their minibus. Both attacks remained under investigation at year's end. The November 2001 abduction and murder of Theys Eluay, a Papuan pro-independence leader, also remained unsolved.

East Timorese Refugees in West Timor

Approximately 28,000 East Timorese refugees remained in the Indonesian province of West Timor at year's end. UNHCR estimated that nearly all of the refugees would choose to remain permanently in Indonesia. Almost 32,000 East Timorese voluntarily repatriated to East Timor during 2002.

On May 20, East Timor achieved independence as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. In December, UNHCR invoked the cessation clause of the Refugee Convention for East Timorese refugees. The cessation was to take effect January 1, 2003. Indonesia announced that any East Timorese remaining in West Timor on that date would be considered Indonesian citizens.

In the violence that followed the 1999 East Timorese independence referendum, as many as 290,000 East Timorese fled – or were forcibly moved by pro-Indonesia militia – to camps and settlements in West Timor. Since then, more than 224,000 East Timorese have repatriated.

Although repatriation continued throughout 2002, the pace of returns fluctuated because of various factors, including conflicting information concerning the refugees' options. Returns surged in March and April, prior to the independence celebrations in May, and repatriation rates remained high through August. The Indonesian government vacillated on offers of various repatriation packages. At one point, the government set an August 31 deadline to close the camps and terminate repatriation assistance. Shortly afterwards, the government restarted the incentive program with bonuses for each family returning before December 31. The voluntary repatriation of many civil servants and military personnel was delayed during the year because compensation was slow to materialize.

UNHCR provided assistance to nearly all of the 32,000 repatriating East Timorese.

Although many of the remaining refugees expressed a preference to stay permanently in West Timor, the Indonesian government sought to identify permanent resettlement sites elsewhere in the country. By year's end, the government had relocated 146 East Timorese families from West Timor to three other locations: 30 families to Kotabaru in South Kalimantan, 50 families to Waringin Timor in Central Kalimantan, and 66 families to Lolokelai in West Sumba.

Middle Eastern and South Asian Asylum Seekers

Because of Indonesia's proximity to Australian island territories off the Australian mainland, increasing numbers of Australia-bound migrants have transited through Indonesia. Most have been asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq, with smaller numbers from Iran and elsewhere. Most arrived with the help of organized smugglers.

In 2000, the Australian government established "regional cooperation arrangements" with parties in Indonesia – the government, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration ( IOM ) – that have a role in detecting and assisting the asylum seekers. During 2001, more than 1,500 asylum seekers were intercepted and assisted in at least 15 locations throughout Indonesia.

Although the agreements remained in place during 2002, no asylum seekers were intercepted during the year. However, UNHCR and IOM continued to seek solutions – including voluntary return or resettlement in other countries – for the asylum seekers remaining in their care.


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