Subject: JP: Refugees refuse repatriation due to unpaid Christmas bonus

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

The Jakarta Post October 22, 2002

Refugees refuse repatriation due to unpaid Christmas bonus

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara

Hundreds of East Timorese refugees sheltering in Kupang and Belu regencies have refused to be repatriated, pending the disbursement of Christmas bonuses promised by the Indonesian government.

Belu regent Marsel Bere said on Monday Coordinating Minister for Peoples' Welfare Yusuf Kalla had promised during his recent visit here to give Rp 1.5 million in cash to each family so that they could buy necessities for Christmas celebrations.

Soon after Kalla announced the incentive, hundreds of East Timorese refugees registered themselves with the Belu office to join the repatriation program. Their travel was slated for mid-October, but the refugees asked for a delay until the government had paid the bonuses.

"We have asked the coordinating minister to immediately fulfill the promise so we can send the refugees back to their home soil," Bere said in Atambua, the capital of Belu.

Separately, Kupang Military Command chief Lt. Col. Pieter Lobo added that around 70 refugees had confirmed their participation in the repatriation program. He urged Kalla to meet the refugees' demand so as to smooth the program's implementation.

"The government should not delay any further the promise to distribute the Christmas bonuses because we fear that would affect their behavior while still in the shelters," he said.

Some 250,000 East Timorese fled (sic) the former Indonesian province in 1999 to escape violence and destruction following the UN-sponsored independence ballot. Most of them expressed an intention to return to their home country as soon as East Timor declared independence in May this year.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) initially ran the repatriation program until September. The Indonesian government took over the obligation and set a deadline of Dec. 31 for the program, or else the East Timorese would automatically become Indonesian citizens.

Alfonso, 29, a resident of Viqueque district in East Timor, said he had been staying in Noelbaki refugee camp for the last three years with three members of his family.

He said his family had registered themselves for repatriation and hoped to arrive home before Christmas so that they could celebrate the holiday and New Year with relatives back home.

"After three years, now is the time to go home because the situation and conditions in Timor Leste have much improved," he told The Jakarta Post.

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