Subject: Charity doesn't help Timorese refugees

Indonesian Observer May 15, 2000

Charity doesn't help Timorese refugees

KUPANG (IO) -- Human right activist Sarah Lery Mboeik called on fellow leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) not to use a charity approach to help East Timor refugees as such moves would only disadvantage the refugees.

Lery, who is last year's winner of the Yap Thian Hien human rights award, called on such organizations to provide advice and information to the refugees instead of handouts.

"We have to make the refugees aware of their rights. The refugees must be aware of their future. We cannot only provide charity," Lery told the Observer recently. Thus far, more than 160,000 East Timorese refugees have returned to their hometowns in East Timor. The return of most of the refugees is organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while others have retuned unaided. The Indonesian government has estimated that the number of East Timor refugees who still live in camps stands at nearly 125,000.

Lery, who is director of the Center for Information and People's Advocacy (PIAR), suggested that each non-governmental organization visit the refugee camps and identify the desires of the refugees.

She lamented that the emergence of some non-governmental organizations in West Timor (NTT) has been prompted merely by an attempt to earn money from the funding agency, rather than by ways to encourage people to retain their confidence and optimism.

She said most of the refugees had told her that they want to return to East Timor rather than stay in West Timor. Lery said the refugees want to go home but they are still afraid of the unstble situation in East Timor.

She added that the charity approach would only disadvantage the refugees because it creates refugee dependence on the donor.

"The refugees will always depend on the charity of the donor. They must be given information so that they can plan their future as early as possible," she said. Information officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Nusya Margono confirmed the number of refugees that have returned to East Timor has reached nearly 160,000.

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