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When I returned to Kuku island in 1998, the church, temple, hospital, the huts... all replaced by new forest.
Mar 17th 2009
11 Months? I was one of them. The first 3 or 4 months was hard because we lived like Robinson Crusoe. Until one day a big helicopter flew by and discovered us, I remember seeing the big Red Cross sign and the word UN on it. We all ran out and waved at it. The following days Large Ships arrived and unloaded supplies and foods. I could see “Save the Children”, “Red Cross”, “World Vision” docked from the distant.
an, did I remember that night when the World Vision boat came. The entire island awoke by a shout of someone, all rushed to shore, overjoyed by the sight of the boat (A NON-REFUGEE BOAT). The wait for it to come ashore felt like an eternity.
We were given tuna (ca ngu) and cabbage. In the dark, I washed the fish and cabbage and cooked them with sea water, and MADE my sister and brother stay awake to eat them. The food tasted awful and full of sand, but we were thankful, for that was real source of vitamin we had in so long.
I just read that Kuku refugee camp was closed in early 90s. Toward the end, life was very tough and unsafe for the refugees. They hardly received supplies, often were beat up and gang raped by Indonesian military personnel. Before they finally closed the camp, 4 more people were bury on the island.
n our time Kuku only have huts made out of small trees and Green Plastic sheets. We didn't have any permanent structures there. Even the office made out of the same materials. Someone told me in Galang that when the last person left Kuku, I believe in June of 1980, they burned down the camp to prevent diseases...
Before June 1979, Kuku Island was just one of 17,508 islands in Indonesia, and was probably only known to some Indonesians who live on islands nearby.
Who would have thought that one day, this ‘hidden’ beautiful half-moon shaped island would be inhabited by thousands of desperate Boat People from another country, thousands kilometers away.
Kuku island has witnessed the existence of many thousands refugees who came and gone. Even welcome new lives, and unfortunately become home to some 200 people, mostly died of diseases.
As of today, I know of three people born on Kuku Island:
One lady born in Oct 1979, now living in Canada
One lady born in Jan 1982, now living in Australia
One person (male) born late at night sometimes in autumn 1979. I don’t know his name but I am hoping that he will find this forum someday. At the time, the hospital wasn’t built yet, this baby boy was delivered in a small hut made of bamboo poles and thatch, inside it had a bamboo table and a small oil lantern hung on the ceiling. While Dr Tan and I helped the woman deliver her baby, her husband went back and forth to his hut to boil water in a small kettle and filled up a bucket so that we can have warm water to wash baby and mom with.
Before I came to Kuku, there was an European volunteer doctor working at the hospital; he died of indigestion, eating lots of saurieng and drinking spirit at a time. Another few of our fellow refugees died from diarrhoea for eating too much of them.
The REAL proof of the existence of more than 40,000 Vietnamese Boat People on that island were the graves, sad and lonely and forgotten in the thick and darkness of an island that not many people heard of.
both were uninhabited until WE invaded these islands, around April 1979 (for Air Raya) and June 1979 (for Kuku)
When Letung were overloaded, Indonesian government strategically planned to make temporary camps on these islands, but the magnitude and speed of our arrivals were far beyond their anticipations, even before they could do something about it. Thus, some of us (in the thousands) were ‘dump’ on these virgin islands with nothing, among our forum members, HG3438, Hy, Tuan, David’s Mom, Mimi and myself were first group arrived on Kuku island within days from each other.
During this trip, I met Mr. Adnan Nala, ex-leader of UNHCR who devoted his life to Vietnamese Boat People in Indonesia for nearly 20 years, he was the first to establish the refugee camps and the last to officially close all the camps, he started since mid 1970s when he was 21 yrs old, he still speaks Vietnamese like a native. According to Nala, Kuku housed more than 40,000 refugees, and at one time (over one week) there were more than 20,000 refugees on the island (my Gosh!).
• Overall, there are more than 2,000 refugees died on these islands in Indonesia. Galang 500+, Terampa 300+, Kuku and Air Raya 400+, even 40+ on Keramut…
There was a church near the beach, and a temple up on the hill. I knew there was a hospital in Kuku island,
It was amazing to see Kuku transformed within months, from the time I arrived as the second group on the island to less than 6 months, there was hospital, church, temple, school, helicopter pad... For years, I thought that local villagers will benefit from it and get good use out of the island, and Much to my surprise, in 1998, when I was there, the island was abandoned, everything was burnt down. Evidence of lives there were the blue plastic (our roof), bottles, the cement pad and forgotten graves.
The REAL proof of the existence of more than 40,000 Vietnamese Boat People on that island were the graves, sad and lonely and forgotten in the thick and darkness of an island that not many people heard of. What hurts me most was the fact that some of these unfortunate people were not left alone even after they were dead, their graves had been disturbed by greedy people.
I just checked and found out that the cut-off date for Indonesia was MARCH 17th, 1989 .
First, that new policy created an unbalanced social system within the community. Those who arrived after the cut-off date were no longer called refugees, but labeled "asylum seeker". My ID card had A.S. number instead of Ref # as it used to be . A.Ss were not treated as equal as refugees by UN officials, by local authority, and even by refugees themselves .
During the 90s, when we saw the pictures of refugees being dragged to the planes in Hong Kong, the pictures of hopeless refugees committing suicide, etc. Around the world, we all tried in vain unsuccessfully to arouse the world’s conscience. This is another painful chapter in our journey.
The Kuku camp was in its infancy in July 79. Most of us stayed close to the beach under the open sky for days without any cover