Subject: ABC: Refugee children sent to Indonesia

ABC Radio ­ Asia Pacific, May 13, 2000 (repeat).

Mystery surrounds missing East Timorese children.

As the task of nation-building continues in East Timor, a fresh concern has arisen. East Timorese refugee children living in West Timor camps are reportedly being taken to Indonesia, on the promise of an education and a better life. So far, 118-East Timorese children have reportedly been sent to Indonesia .. another 32 also on their way to Java were stopped on the orders of the West Timorese governor. Details are still murky but as Kanaha Sabapathy (KS) reports, a clearer picture seems to be emerging

KS: The story first came to light when members of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) working in camps in Kupang realized that more than 100 children had been sent by their parents to Indonesia. According to Fr Andre Sujidapranoto (?sp), director of JRS in West Timor, East Timorese parents are promised a better education for their children in Indonesia and had handed over their children in trust.

Fr S. “There is some one, Dr Ubasio (? sp), he is an East Timorese, and he is a nephew of former governor Abilio Soares. He went to the camps in Kupang and told the parents there "We will take care of the children who could not go to school in the camps, whose parents are poor. Because he is a well known person, people in the camps trust him and they agree that the children going to Java to get a good education.”

KS: Since then 118 children are refugees under the care of the government and UNHCR their removal is illegal. What is becoming apparent however is that more refugee children are being recruited to go over to Indonesia. Just recently the provincial government working with the ICRC, UNHCR and Community Family Services International (CFSI) stopped the removal of a further 32 children. Nelly Siliano (?sp) is the CFSI community organizer based in Kupang.

NS “About three weeks ago UNHCR informed us that something was going on about children being sent to East Java ­ from Goa [perhaps Gor], …[unclear], Tupukan camps. So we sent our social worker to Tupukan to investigate and when he came back he was able to tell us that there is an organization called “Bu Hati” which has been talking to the families to the families of refugees and asking them to send their children to school in East Java.

While the first lot of children who are now in Java were handed over on trust, parents of these 32 children were asked to sign an agreement. Jake Moreland, UNHCR external relations officer in Kupang explains:

JM “They are being asked to sign a form which includes an article saying that you sign your children over until their education is finished which mean that they have no access to their children until they finish their education. Secondly they also sign something saying that in case of death or accident they have no legal power over the agency concerned. The parents are signing for this to happen but at the same time we are not completely sure how much of an informed choice this is.”

KS Despite these clauses being explained to the parents who had gathered in Kupang to see their children off, some were annoyed with the international organizations for stopping the movement of their children. So what were the parents promised ?

CFSI Nelly Siliano: “There are children of different ages and both sexes. They rang in age from 7 up to 14 or 15 and they are Muslim, Protestant and catholic children. They said that they would send them to a school of their own religion and at the level that they should be at. Parents are not supposed to take them back until they have finished senior high school. That’s why some of the parents agreed ­ in fact one of the fathers was saying he wanted his child to have an education that he saw with children in Jakarta and not at the education that he has seen in West Timor.

But some of the parents backed out when they learnt that they could not get back their children until they had finished senior high school.

KS Parents were also assured that their children were being sent to boarding homes and were shown pictures of children at play and study in these places but none of the parents could throw any light on the group “Bu Hati” or whether the group harboured any intentions for their children.

NS The international agencies are trying to find out because they were able to get a calling card of one of the people who are taking the children. CFSI is trying to trace the children who were sent to Kalimantan, East Java, to where-ever else.

KS Nelly Siliano gave the number on the card she had collected. The Yogjakarta number got me to a Catholic orphanage where I spoke to Sister Carasia ( ? sp). Sr Carasia could not throw any light on the organization Bu Hati but she could confirm that eight East Timorese children came to her orphanage three months ago. Sr Carasia also confirmed that similar numbers of East Timorese children are in five other orphanages in Yogja and with more apparently in other orphanages in Semarang. Asked why these children were bought across she said

Sister Carasia “A few people who come from East Timor actually only a few children and then the others want to go to Java also to get some education and some nutrition because in the Kupang camp the situation is not good”

KS According to Sister Carasia the Indonesian run orphanage has 80 children and is a self funding organization.

Sr Carasia “We try to get money by selling …. (unclear) , we get money from local people not from East Timor … “

KS Christian values apart why would a self funding organization like the Catholic orphanage take on the added burden of educating East Timorese children to senior high school level. According to Fr Andre S, some groups in Indonesia see an East Timorese connection as an easy means of gaining international assistance.

Fr Andre S: “NGO work depends on money. When there is no donation they cannot work. So probably they use the East Timor case for their own purpose.”

KS Fr Andre also alludes to another disturbing possibility ­ from the priest in Semarang who had been assigned the responsibility of the 118 children he found that those involved in recruiting the children harbour the hope that these East Timorese children will serve as heroes for Indonesia.

Fr Andre S: “There is a brother named Paulus Musiran (?) ­ he is the one who somehow organized the distribution of the children and Paulus Musiran told me “20 years later, these children will go to East Timor and fight for Indonesia ­ they will want East Timor back in Indonesia.”

KS While the UNHCR is working to find out more about the group Bu Hati, the Community Services Department of regional authorities in West Timor is working to establish contact between parents and their separated children.

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