Subject: East Timorese refugees find a home on another island

The Age/Sydney Morning Herald January 16 2003

Refugees find a home on another island

By Matthew Moore Indonesia Correspondent Jakarta

Some of the 28,000 East Timorese who remain in West Timor after fleeing the carnage that followed East Timor's 1999 vote for independence will soon be leaving the island altogether.

In the next few months, the first of 300 East Timorese families will be moved to the nearby Indonesian island of Sumba in an experiment by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Indonesian Government intended to permanently resolve the Timorese refugee issue.

Announcing the plan yesterday, UNHCR officials said it would be quite different to the transmigration policies of the Suharto government, where millions of farmers were relocated from densely populated parts of Indonesia to remote areas such as Papua and Kalimantan.

UNHCR's assistant regional representative, Fernando Protti-Alvarado, said the first group of 70 refugee farming families would soon move to the village of Denduka in western Sumba. In negotiations with villagers in Denduka last month, agreement was reached for refugees to farm common land and to have access to water and other necessities.

Asked why villagers wanted the settlers, Mr Protti-Alvarado said: "They want to show solidarity with the refugees and to get access to the community development fund."

Money from Jakarta and the UNHCR will fund new houses in the village not just for refugees but also for locals, with the likelihood of more money for schools and other government services.

Villagers on Sumba, a mainly Christian island, have made it clear they do not want to be outnumbered by the refugees and they are only willing to accept other Christians.

The UNHCR said the refugees would move only when they and the host villagers agreed to the plan and the Timorese had had a chance to inspect their new homes and meet their new neighbours.

The UNHCR's regional representative, Robert Ashe, said the plan to relocate refugees would appeal to some, but most refugees still in West Timor would stay there permanently. Nearly 90 per cent of the 250,000 refugees who flooded into West Timor have returned home, but most of those remaining have roots in Indonesian Timor.

Mr Ashe said that of 9000 East Timorese families still in West Timor, 5600 have a family member employed in the Indonesian civil service, the army or the police and have opted to stay.

People who had fled to West Timor lost their right to official refugee status and United Nations protection on December 31 last year when the UN decided they no longer qualified as refugees.

The UNHCR has also drawn up a two-year plan to resolve 819 cases of East Timorese children still separated from their families.

About 350 of these children are in West Timor and others are scattered around Indonesia. In some cases, their guardians refuse to allow the UNHCR to have contact with the children or to allow contact with their families, Mr Ashe said.

"We have a number of difficult cases where the caretaker is unwilling to release the child or allow them to establish some contact... through letters or photographs," he said.

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