Subject: Two Acehnese refugees in East Timor

Two Acehnese refugees in East Timor

Bahagia and Mohamed are two young Acehnese who have been in East Timor for 10 months. They are two well-known faces in Dili. The following is an interview of them, realised in Dili on Sept. 17, 2000. Bahagia, who speaks better English, did most of the answers.

Bruno Kahn

Bahagia: - We went out in December 1999 because of the military oppression by the TNI. According to my perception, this is ethnic cleansing or genocide. After we went to the referendum rally in November 1999 [a large rally in favour of a referendum for self-determination], there was an issue: the army would kidnap you.

Q: - Were you targeted specially by the TNI?

B: - Not us specially, all (Acehnese) people.

Q: - What did you do?

B: - First we wanted to go to Malaysia, but several people were deported, so we took the decision to come here because there were many UN people.

Q: - How did you come here?

B: - Aceh - West Timor (Kupang) by a Pelni ship, then Kupang - Atambua by public transport.

Q: - This must have been very expensive?

B: - Yes.

B: - In Atambua, we took public transport to Motaain on the border, and then we walked.

Q: - Did the TNI stop you at the border?

B: - Of course. They questioned us: Where are you from? Do you work for an organisation? Why do you want to go to East Timor?

Q: - What did you answer?

B: - We were silent because we were afraid. We said "We come from Aceh". They said: "If you cross, this is for good." After we crossed, we met an interpreter. An NGO car took us from Batugade to Dili. We slept one night in a destroyed building. The next morning, an Australian suggested us to come to Timor Aid [a major East Timorese NGO]. We have been there for 9 months. We sleep in the office.

Q: - How old are you?

B: - I am 26, Mohamad is 23.

Q: - What are your plans?

B: - We have applied for refugee status to the Australian mission: Bahagia in July and Mohamad in August. We await the result.

Q: - Why to Australia?

B: - Because a friend of ours from the Aceh-Australia association (in Sydney) sent us a recommendation letter. Now the problem is: Why do we have to wait for so long?

Q: - Why not apply at the same time?

B: - Because we thought it better to apply one by one.

Q: - Do you have any family in Aceh?

B: - Yes.

Q: - Do they know where you are?

B: - I think so.

Q: - Were you arrested before in Aceh by the TNI?

B: - No, but they threatened us.

Q: - Did you have any activity/responsibility in GAM [Gereka Aceh Merdeka, the Aceh Independence Movement]?

B: - This is difficult to say, but we were acting in solidarity. For example, boycott of general elections, we didn't come, etc. We participated. Also we didn't celebrate the [Indonesian] independence day. Besides that, we stopped public activities, in solidarity.

Q: - Before coming to East Timor, what did you know about this place?

B: - We knew that there was an independence struggle, so we thought Timor, Aceh, Irian. . . same problem, so we believed we should come here. We heard of the referendum. . . We feel happy that East Timor is independent.

Q: - When you had been here for a few days, what were your impressions?

B: - A little bit shaken by the situation: everything was destroyed. We had never seen this before. Why?

Q: - Could you find people to speak with?

B: - Yes, many people speak with us and say hello.

Q: - What were the reactions of the East Timorese?

B: - Respect for us.

Q: - How about religion?

B: - We are Muslim but never go to the Mosque. Because it is too far. So we better pray by ourselves in the office. [The Mosque is near the Australian mission, towards Comoro airport.]

Q: - Do you feel isolated, lonely, did you get friends?

B: - Yes, we got many friends.

Q: - Are you looking for publicity?

B: - Yes we do, but we haven't got any until now.

Q: - For a refugee status, what have you tried so far?

B: - In the Portuguese mission, a month ago: a receipt, no answer. In Canada, three months ago: same. In Norway, via Ramos Horta: problem because we have no sponsor. The UNHCR in Dili rejected our application. We sent a letter to TAPOL in London but got no answer. We talked to many people from various countries: nobody can help.

Q: - What do you do in East Timor?

B: - I work as a volunteer at the hospital.

Mohamad: - I work as a volunteer at Timor Aid (distribution in a warehouse).

Q: - Would you like to study?

M: - I would like to study political sciences and diplomacy at the University. I want to help the people in Aceh for independence.

B: - I am still considering. Maybe technology, also at the University.

Q: - What did you study?

B: - I studied English for 3 years in University Borobudur, Jakarta.

M: - I studied agriculture (SMA) in Sigli Aceh.

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