Foreign volunteers free to stay as long as they wish on Nias

Saturday, April 16, 2005
By nias

Saturday, April 16, 2005 Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post/Medan

The North Sumatra provincial administration, which is in charge of disaster mitigation on Nias island, on Thursday announced that it would give ample time for the foreign relief workers involved in humanitarian relief efforts to stay in the area, and gave assurances as regards their safety.

A spokesman for the North Sumatra Natural Disaster Coordinating Unit (Satkorlak), R.E. Nainggolan, said that the foreign volunteers in Nias had helped considerably to ease the burden on Satkorlak in conducting relief efforts and their presence was still greatly needed.

Nainggolan said that based on these considerations, the provincial administration had decided not to set any time limit for the foreign volunteers until the situation in Nias had improved.

According to Nainggolan, the decision had been taken due to the fact that Nias, unlike Aceh, was not a conflict area and that the foreign volunteers would be in no danger.

"It's up to them how long they want to stay in Nias. We will not limit their stay. Their presence is still needed, as they have proven themselves to be totally dependable in helping victims over the past two weeks. The disaster mitigation efforts would definitely be slow without their help," Nainggolan told The Jakarta Post.

Nainggolan added that the number of foreigners who had arrived in Nias since the disaster stood at 446, and that they were drawn from eight United Nations organizations and 71 non-governmental organizations. There were also 36 foreign journalists in the area.

Most of them came from Singapore, the United States of America, the Netherlands, Croatia, Germany, France, Malaysia, Russia, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Hungary, Norway, New Zealand and China. There were also 520 local volunteers from 41 organizations doing relief work in Nias, which was recently rocked by an 8.7-magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds of people on Nias and on surrounding islands.

Nainggolan said that while the number of foreign volunteers kept increasing, some had also returned home. Those who had left were from Hungary, Singapore and Australia.

According to Nainggolan, all of the foreign relief workers on Nias are being coordinated by the United Nations Organization Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), assisted by three liaison officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

He added that every foreign volunteer doing humanitarian work in Nias would be treated well.

"We will treat them like members of our own family and their safety will be the full responsibility of our security personnel," said Nainggolan, who is also the head of the North Sumatra Information and Communications Agency.

Polonia Airport Immigration Unit director Sigit Roesdianto said that most of the foreign volunteers had been issued visas on arrival or short-stay entry permits. About 190 of them had already returned home.

Nainggolan said that Satkorlak was grateful for the large amount of foreign aid donated to the quake victims in Nias. To date, hundreds of tons of foreign aid from a number of donor countries had arrived on Nias.

The aid was being distributed to quake victims in Nias and South Nias regencies. Nearly everywhere on Nias had received sufficient aid three weeks after the disaster.

However, he added that there was still a shortage of tents for those who had been displaced.

"We still require about 3,000 tents because many of the displaced are still afraid to return home. They are still sleeping in the open air without tents," said Nainggolan, adding that the UNHCR had recently delivered about 752 tents.

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April 2005