Subject: JP: '1,500 Timorese children still stranded'

Also: Repatriation of children to E. Timor meets resistance

The Jakarta Post

July 6, 2002

'1,500 Timorese children still stranded'

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Kupang

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday that 1,500 East Timorese children, placed in orphanages across Indonesia in 1999, had not yet been reunited with their parents in newly independent East Timor.

UNHCR spokeswomen in Jakarta Kemala Angraeni Ahwil said that parents had requested their children be returned, but finding them after they had been sent away to orphanages was no easy feat.

She said the UNHCR knew of 1,501 cases of unreturned children. Foundations that placed the children in orphanages were reluctant to surrender them, Kemala said.

UNHCR documents, parent-signed letters, and video footage of the parents were often not enough to convince the foundations or the orphanages, she said.

"They don't understand and don't believe us," she told The Jakarta Post.

Nevertheless, the UNHCR had managed to help reunite a total of 1,179 East Timorese children placed in orphanages across Indonesia with their parents.

Those children were handed over by their parents in refugee camps in West Timor to foundations who promised to take care of the children. The foundation then placed the children in various orphanages.

Over 200,000 East Timorese fled the violence that engulfed the former Indonesian province following a 1999 UN-backed ballot, in which the East Timorese overwhelmingly voted for independence.

Kemala said that parents who had returned to East Timor and some who were still in Kupang had asked the UNHCR to help find their children.

"They are scattered among many orphanages, so we're keeping our eyes and ears open," Kemala said.

Earlier, the Java-based Hati (heart) Foundation had come under fire on charges of obstructing efforts to return children to East Timor.

The international non-governmental organization, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Indonesia, said it was unable to repatriate 150 children because of objections from the Hati Foundation.

But chief of the Hati Foundation Octavio Soares argued he was responsible only to the parents who had entrusted their children to the foundation.

"Some (foundations) claim that because parents gave them the children, they want the parents to pick them up," Kemala added.

She said the UNHCR would need the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the matter with the foundations.

According to her, past cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been helpful in getting them to understand the UNHCR's job. "I fear there is prejudice against the UN and the suspicion that we're meddling with Indonesia's internal affairs."

The Jakarta Post July 4, 2002

Repatriation of children to E. Timor meets resistance

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

An international non-governmental organization (NGO) has complained that pro-Indonesia East Timorese are obstructing its attempts to reunite East Timorese children in orphanages in Java with their parents in East Timor.

The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Indonesia, which deals with East Timorese refugees, said Java-based Hati (heart) Foundation had neglected around 150 East Timorese children it took from their parents in refugee camps in Betun, Atambua and Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.

The foundation had promised to send the children to school until they got jobs in Java.

All their parents had signed agreements with the foundation to care for their children.

The foundation, JSR Indonesia said, had distributed those children to a number of orphanages.

However, when the orphanages wanted to return the children to their parents who had returned home to the newly-independent East Timor with the help of JSR Indonesia, the Hati Foundation obstructed the moves.

Worse still, executives of Hati Foundation even intimidated the children and the orphanages, JSR Indonesia said.

Hati Foundation chief Octavio Soares refuted the claims, saying that he had obtained the parents' consent and his foundation had never done anything illegal.

"I'm only responsible to the parents who have trusted their children to my care," he told AFP.

JSR Indonesia then asked the Indonesian Military for help.

JSR Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara site coordinator Navita Kristi Astuti wrote to Kupang military district chief Lt. Col. Wilmar Aritonang, with a copy sent to Wirasakti (East Nusa Tenggara) Military commander Lt. Col. Muswarno Moesanip, asking the latter's help to repatriate the children to East Timor.

Speaking to The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, Moesanip said he was ready to back up plans by JRS Indonesia and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to reunite the children with their parents in East Timor.

Moesanip also warned the Hati Foundation to cooperate with the authorities, to stop intimidating East Timorese refugees and to "cooperate" in sending them home.

"If the report is true, the foundation has become a trade mafia for refugee children.

"The Indonesian Military will continue to help make the reunification process of East Timorese children with their parents a success," he said.

UNHCR said last week that it would send 16 Timorese children to their parents in East Timor. Those children were taken from various orphanages in South Kalimantan, Central Java and East Nusa Tenggara provinces. None of them came from the Hati Foundation.

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