|Subject: Kompas: fate of refugees
Captivates of Peace in Timor Island
Kompas, 21 March 2006
'The Government no longer pays attention to us. Some local officials
have even asked us why we have not repatriated and returned to Timtim. We
don't think about going back to Timtim. We're here not only for the
sights. We are legal citizens. I'm surprised that officials ask us this,'
said Salem Nimran (49)
By P. Bambang Wisudo
Indonesia's occupation in East Timor (Timtim) has been a grey period
which inherits sadness to this day. Thousands of ex refugees still live in
temporary barracks, with no access to education and adequate health
facilities. The fate of ex Timtim citizens is still unknown and remains a
neglected agenda for post conflict handling.
In 2005, the central government in Jakarta had ended its assistance to
refugees in the form of housing material (BBR) and termination funds.
Refugees are considered gone. Nimran no longer has the right to receive
BBR or termination funds as he does not own land.
'How can we buy land when we don't even have enough for food,' said
Nimran, a father of three children. He lives in a makeshift home with tin
roofing and hard-packed ground as flooring. Bits of tarpaulin are joined
here and there to cover parts of his wall which is made of lontar leaves.
He occupies land owned by the local people in front of the Loloa terminal
complex in Atambua. He makes a living by seeking and breaking up stones
into gravel. Other times he works as construction labor. 'People don't
give us land to farm on,' said Nimran.
Nimran was often asked to leave by the land owners, however he, and
some 42 families living in that block had refused. He still hoped to
receive some fuel compensation funds for the poor. The funds will be used
by the people to buy land for living. However, they don't have the cards.
Their names were not included as recipients for the fuel compensation fund
as announced by the Statistics Office in Atambua, so they all stormed on
the Statistics Office in Atambua on 3 March.
'We have no hopes for the government,' said Nimran not knowing what to
Nimran had once been offered to transmigrate to other parts of
Indonesia. He had refused the offer. Like most of the other ex East Timor
citizens, they prefer to stay on Timor Island. They want to stay close to
their birthplace so they can easily visit their families in Timor Leste
whenever they want.
Coaxing them to move is not an easy matter as the decision to stay or
not is a group decision. Customs require them to live within the same
location with other families of the same bloodline which can amount to
tens of people. The problem is that Timor Island does not have the
resources to accommodate the thousands of people hungry for land. Forests
are destroyed as wood are felled for firewood and building material and
its land is used for farming.
'The locals had once confronted the ex refugees living in Wemer forest.
The people in Timor have always refrained from touching the forest as it
provides water for the people of Belu,' said Wendilinus Inta (31), an NGO
activist in Atambua.
In the end of 2005, the government had removed the refugee status of ex
East Timor citizens living in West Timor. However, thousands of ex East
Timorese are still living in refugee camps concentrated in Belu district
According to NGO data, the number of refugees in Belu district amount
to around 10,000 families. The local government mentions 12,000. The
number of neglected ex East Timor refugees still amount to around 30,000
to 40,000 families. This different amount becomes a point of argument and
prejudices. The Camp Coordinator is often charged of adding the amount to
gain more contributions. However, the fact remains that the numbers of
people and refugee families continue to grow naturally and will become
harder to resolve.
'Data is a big problem. The government claims that all refugees have
been assisted and all refugee assistance has been stopped in 2000. The
fact is, thousand of refugees are still living in refugee camps,' said
Winston Rondo, Coordinator for the Timor CIS Volunteer Group.
Repatriation, said Winston, is still open to them. However, the number
of people actually returning to East Timor is too small. Only five
families do so after long periods. A problem that prevents repatriation is
the fear of retaliation. Although they may not be directly connected to
acts of violence, they are afraid they might be connected with members of
families involved with the pro-integration militia. Some people still live
in refugee camps, said Winston, still unsure whether to go home, stay, or
go home later.
'Some continue to stay on the idea that the government must take care
of them,' said Winston.
If not thoroughly resolved, the refugee problem may not only withhold
efforts to develop peaceful and friendly relations with Timor Leste, but
also may become sources of conflict in the future. Currently, several
community groups have initiated to ask refugees to leave land they are
occupying. West Timor's natural resources are too limited to be further
divided with thousands of ex refugees. Informal jobs in the district are
mostly taken by the refugees. This burden is too great for West Timor
which is categorized as one of the poorest areas in Indonesia is now like
a dry piece of straw, easily combustible.
The Coordinator for the Timor People's Advocacy Information Centre (PIAR),
Sarah Lery Mbooik said the central government cannot leave the burden of
handling refugees to NTT Province alone. NTT is too poor and cannot be
saddled with this problem. 'Moreover, since the occupation of East Timor
till today, the people of NTT have always remained as bystanders,' said
Back to March menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu