Subject: Age: UN fears for future of East Timorese refugees

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Age February 4, 2002

UN fears for future of East Timorese refugees


A senior UN official is pessimistic that it will be possible to return about 70,000 East Timorese refugees stranded in Indonesian camps to their homeland before independence on May 20.

Bernard Kerblat, the head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Dili, said the figure includes 1521 children separated from their parents.

The UN is concerned that if the refugees cannot return to East Timor before independence, it could be much more difficult for them to return later.

Mr Kerblat said the UNHCR was especially concerned about the children. "It's very, very high on our agenda," he said, adding that the UNHCR had conducted a house-to-house survey in East Timor to locate parents of children still missing.

In the past two years, 716 children have been reunited with their parents, but more than double that number are still outside the territory.

Mr Kerblat said that although the UNHCR received excellent cooperation from some Indonesian officials in 2001, "currently we detect very, very few efforts to promote returns, despite our increased meetings and efforts to promote reconciliation".

An estimated quarter of a million people were forcibly deported by the Indonesian army and its militia allies during the reign of terror following East Timor's vote to reject Indonesian rule in August 1999.

Most were taken to militia-controlled camps in West Timor.

In January, the Indonesian Government stopped all welfare payments to refugees in West Timor in a bid to force them to return to East Timor or become Indonesian citizens.

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