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Shia refugees demand to be let back into their village

Muslim mob drove them out last year

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<p>Umar Shihab, chairman of Ahlul Bait Indonesia</p>

Umar Shihab, chairman of Ahlul Bait Indonesia

  • Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
  • Indonesia
  • May 16, 2013
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Hundreds of Shia refugees forced to flee their village in East Java last year have appealed to lawmakers to put pressure on local authorities to allow them to return home.

Plans are afoot to relocate them against their will, they claimed at a gathering to hand in a petition to MPs outside the parliament building in Jakarta on Tuesday.

At least 140 families were forced from the village in Sampang district on Madura Island last August, when a Sunni Muslim mob of more than 500 people attacked them, setting dozens of homes on fire.

The attack in Karang Gayam killed two members of the community and left 10 others injured.

Since then they have been housed in a sports complex waiting to return home. However, local Sunni hardliners say they will only allow the Shia to return if they become Sunnis.   

Their plight was highlighted last year by Amnesty International who in a statement in November quoted credible sources saying that some of the community’s members were intimidated and harassed by local government officials, urging them to convert to Sunni Islam if they wanted to return to their homes.

Early this month authorities in Sampang district stopped food and water supplies to the refugees while the district chief, Hasib Fannan, reportedly told them he had sent a letter to the East Java governor recommending they be relocated outside the district.

However, the Shia are demanding local authorities make a greater effort to allow them to return home and ensure their safety.

“They are Indonesian citizens. Whatever the reason, they will not relocate,” said Umar Shihab, chairman of Ahlul Bait Indonesia, a Shia organisation supporting the refugees.

“It’s been nine months, and no clear solution has been offered. The displaced Shia must return to their village,” he told the gathering.

Ahmad Hidayat, secretary general of Ahlul Bait Indonesia, said Sampang district has never tried any mediation or reconciliation efforts between the Shia and Sunni communities.

House speaker Marzuki Alie on Tuesday accepted the Shia’s petition and promised to summon the Sampang district head, the East Java governor, and the local police chief and urge them to come up with an acceptable solution.

He said there is a need to take necessary measures to avoid the eviction of minority groups just because they have different faiths.

“There will be chaos if it happens in all parts of Indonesia,” he said.

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