Ambon - Tens of thousands beyond humanitarian reach

Press release: June 27, 2000 - Ambon, Indonesia - The international aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today expressed its extreme concern about the rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Ambon, Maluku Province, Indonesia. Tens of thousands of displaced people are currently beyond the reach of humanitarian aid agencies. Local medical facilities are under great strain and are running out of essential supplies like drugs and blood bags.

For several months now, violence on the island and the city of Ambon has been increasing. Clashes between Muslim and Christian militias as well as Indonesian forces are a daily reality. Last week the conflict escalated and in the past five days (21st-26th June) there have been 58 deaths and 329 casualties, mostly young males wounded by bullets. There are also an unknown number of casualties not referred to hospitals.

Access to camps of internally displaced people is impossible because of the permanent insecurity, leaving thousands of families without relief support. The situation is expected to worsen with the arrival of more displaced families expelled during the clashes. Last month there were already 34,000 displaced persons sheltered in Ambon in 81 camps supported by MSF. The supply of drinking water to several camps has been stopped since Wednesday, after one MSF office and two MSF rented water trucks were set ablaze during attacks on the Tantuit area, Ambon City. MSF has been forced to temporarily halt nearly all our humanitarian activities in both Muslim and Christian areas, fearing for the safety of our staff because of numerous snipers and confrontation with armed groups.

In close collaboration with the health authorities, the MSF team has been supporting the main hospitals of the city by supplying emergency stocks and reinforcing the medical staff. Two of the MSF-supported ambulances are operating an emergency medical referral system, one located in the Muslim sector and one in the Christian. This has helped to maintain a minimum of health services accessible to the local population from both communities. However within days these supplies will be depleted, and it will be impossible to re-supply unless access to the main drug warehouse of the city can be secured. Of grave concern is the lack of blood bags for life-saving transfusion which can only be supplied from outside the province.

MSF is very worried about the risk of further deterioration of the humanitarian situation and the increasing difficulties in reaching populations throughout the entire province of Maluku. Communities in North-Maluku are also suffering similar shortages due to severe clashes which have lead to hundreds of deaths and wounded over the last few months.

MSF is calling upon all parties in the conflict, and local community leaders, to arrange for immediate access to the displaced population and the respect for the basic medical emergency services still trying to treat the population. Humanitarian corridors should be opened as soon as possible to provide essential relief services to the population affected by the present escalating conflict.

MSF has been working in Indonesia since 1997 and is also running projects in West-Timor, Papua, Aceh, Kalimantan, Southeast Sulawesi, North-Maluku, Manado and Banggai Islands.