Fate of East Timorese Refugees in Indonesia Uncertain as Deadline
Rights Group Warns International Community Not to Forget Refugees
September 1, 2002 -- The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN)
today warned that Sunday’s deadline should not be used as an excuse to
abandon some 45,000 East Timorese refugees in Indonesia. The Indonesian
government has threatened to close refugee camps in West Timor on
September 1, and international agencies plan to end important refugee
programs the same day.
“The UN and many foreign governments declared a commitment to East
Timor at May’s independence ceremony. Where is their support for the
five percent of the East Timorese who remain in Indonesia?” asked
“We are gravely concerned that this weekend’s artificial deadline
will set the international community on the road toward total abandonment
of the remaining refugees,” said ETAN spokesperson John M. Miller. “Having
failed to address the underlying political cause of the refugee crisis the
continued presence of armed, hostile militia the world must not forget
these people. We urge the United Nations, the International Organization
of Migration (IOM) and others to strengthen their efforts so that every
refugee can freely and safely choose between repatriation to East Timor
and resettlement in Indonesia.”
The Deputy Governor of West Timor where most of the refugees have lived
under deplorable conditions for the past three years recently
said that the more than two hundred refugee camps must be vacated by
September 1. In contrast, the Indonesian national
government stated last month that the refugee camps will stay open
until the end of 2002, but all monetary and security assistance currently
given to repatriating refugees will end on September 1.
The UN-associated IOM has chosen the same date to end its programs in
West Timor. The IOM provides information about conditions in East Timor to
the refugees, to counter rampant militia disinformation. The Office of the
UN High Commissioner for Refugees has declared that all East Timorese
residing in Indonesia will lose their refugee status after December 31,
Militia abuses in the camps include rape and other physical assaults.
Refugee women also suffer high rates of domestic violence. Widespread
malnutrition and disease have been reported, with children
The more than 1,500 children separated from their parents in 1999,
often under coercive conditions, deserve special attention, said ETAN.
Many of these children have been placed across Indonesia in orphanages and
other institutions, some controlled by militia. Efforts by the UN to
reunite the children with their parents in East Timor have met strong
“These children are especially vulnerable,” commented Miller. “The
UN must continue its efforts to help reunite them with their parents. The
U.S. and other countries must maintain pressure on Indonesia to remove all
obstacles hampering reunification of these families,” said Miller.
In August 1999, the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence
from Indonesia in a UN-organized referendum, ending 24 years of brutal
military occupation. Following the vote, the Indonesian military and its
militia killed at least 2,000 people, raped hundreds of women and girls,
destroyed more than 70 percent of the infrastructure, and displaced some
250,000 people to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. While most
refugees have since repatriated, recent returnees report continuing
militia intimidation and disinformation.
The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for
the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable
development, social, legal and economic justice, and human rights,
including women’s rights. For more information, see ETAN’s web site at
see also Refugee page.