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AUGUST 4, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 30 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK

Orphaned, a Small Boy Waits in Fear
A crowded refugee camp is home
By AMY CHEW Sulawesi

The same dream recurs every night —mobs armed with machetes, bows and arrows are trying to kill him. Each time 14-year-old Nordi wakes up, he finds himself alive but alone. His parents and a younger sister were hacked to death by Muslim mobs in Indonesia's Maluku islands, where bloody sectarian violence has raged for the past 17 months. A Christian from Halmahera island in North Maluku, Nordi fled his home a month ago aboard a ship bound for the neighboring island of North Sulawesi. In June, 480 refugees drowned when their overcrowded boat sank while making the same trip. Nordi lives in a crowded, noisy, cramped refugee shelter carved out of a huge factory ground with plastic sheets and flimsy wooden partitions. "I wake up feeling scared," he says, his eyes lowered. "I'm afraid that I might be killed too."

Nordi's tragedy unfolded in January when he and his family arrived in the town of Cikona. They were fleeing riots that broke out in their once-tranquil village of Fanaha. Their home was razed to the ground. "We were awoken one morning at around 5:30 by the sounds of shooting and home-made bombs exploding," he recalls. "My parents and I ran to a police post, while my two sisters and a brother ran to the jungle."

At the police station, Nordi saw huge mobs armed with guns, bombs, machetes, and bows and arrows running through the streets. When the mobs started hurling rocks at the police post, Nordi and his parents ran to the jungle along with hundreds of frightened residents. In the darkness and melee of a terrifying dawn, Nordi became separated from his family. He hid in the jungle for a week with no food, surviving by drinking water from rivers. "All around me people were dying from starvation," he says. "They dropped dead in the jungle and were left there because there was no one to bury them. I was scared, seeing the people die, and I worried that I might end up the same way."

When he could not find his parents, Nordi followed hundreds of people trekking through the jungle to the relative safety of other towns. Nordi made his way to the city of Tobelo, where he was found by an aunt who told him of his parents' and younger sister's deaths. His remaining siblings had been captured by the mobs and taken to the city of Ternate, where they were forced to convert to Islam. After several months in Tobelo, Nordi boarded a ship heading for North Sulawesi's predominantly Christian provincial capital of Manado — a tourist's delight. He was reunited with his grandparents, aunts and cousins in the refugee shelter. "We came here with nothing but the clothes on our back," said Nordi's aunt, Mary.

Nordi still finds it hard to believe that his parents were killed by Muslims. He grew up peacefully with them, mixing freely. There is no hatred in this youth, only puzzlement and fear. "The Muslims were the ones who helped and protected us in their homes when riots first broke out in my village," says Nordi. "And when the mobs came, they took us to the jungle and gave us food. I am grateful to my Muslim friends for saving us — but I have also become scared of them." The remaining members of Nordi's family do not think the killers came from the local Muslim community, with whom they had lived in peace and harmony for as long as they could remember. "We believe many of the attackers came from outside," says Mary. "When the troubles first started in Ambon [more than 500 km south], all our Muslim friends said, 'Don't worry, it will never happen here. We will look after you.' "

Nordi does not want to return to the Malukus. His harrowing flight to safety has left him traumatized. He does not want to think about the violence he left behind, but he is terrified that it will follow him. In the squalor of the refugee camp, at least he gets one meal a day. And he is safe. He lives for the time when he can see his brother and sister again, and resume his studies. His grandparents, aunts and uncles pay him loving attention, but Nordi still struggles to accept that he is now an orphan. "I miss my parents very much, especially my mother," he says, staring blankly into space.


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