For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668
East Timorese in Indonesia to Lose Refugee Status at New Year
International Community Must Continue Efforts on Behalf of Vulnerable
Children & Adults
December 30, 2002 -- The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN)
today warned that ending official refugee status for East Timorese in
Indonesia at the close of this year would not end the problem. ETAN also
called on Indonesia and the international community to step up efforts to
reunite children involuntarily separated from their parents.
"The United Nations and Indonesia hope that ending their status as
refugees will force East Timorese in Indonesia to choose whether to
resettle or go home. But this assumes that all the refugees have the
information and freedom to make a choice without coercion," said John
M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.
"Militia disinformation and pressure, as well as security and
economic concerns pertaining to East Timor, continue to keep tens of
thousands of East Timorese from repatriating. Calling them 'Indonesian
citizens' instead of 'refugees' cannot resolve these complex issues,"
"The UN and its international donors must not walk away from this
problem, nor should the Indonesian government. The UN must continue public
information and repatriation programs after its self-imposed December 31
deadline," said Miller.
"The hundreds of children involuntarily separated from their
parents during and after the referendum period deserve special
attention," said Karen Orenstein, ETAN's Washington Representative.
The exact number of children in unknown, but may total well over a
Militia and other pro-integrationists put many of these children into
orphanages and other institutions across Indonesia. Efforts by the UN and
other international agencies to reunite the children with their parents in
East Timor have met strong opposition from their "guardians" and
indifference from Indonesian officials.
"Indonesia, as a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the
Child, must ensure these children can return to their families. The
Indonesian government's lack of action to date is shocking," stated
“The Indonesian government must remove all obstacles hampering
reunification of these families and provide full support to the UN and
other agencies in reunification efforts. Those responsible for taking the
children should be prosecuted,” she added. “The U.S. and other
governments must pressure Indonesia to fulfill its legal obligations. The
UN must also intensify its efforts to reunite these children with their
The Indonesian government and the Office of the UN High Commissioner
for Refugees have declared that all East Timorese residing in Indonesia
will lose their refugee status after December 31, 2002. UNHCR estimates
that 30,000 refugees remain in camps in West Timor; more live outside the
camps or elsewhere in Indonesia. Few have returned since East Timor became
independent last May. Although there was an upsurge in repatriation rates
in early 2002, as people returned to celebrate East Timor's independence
in May, the number of returnees has again plummeted. Fewer than 300
repatriated during November.
The Indonesian government has yet to fully address the security threat
militia leaders living among the refugees in West Timor pose to
independent East Timor. Payment of pensions and other compensation issues
for former East Timorese civil servants under the Indonesian occupation
have also not been adequately resolved.
Widespread malnutrition and disease, especially among children, have
been reported in the camps. Women suffer high rates of domestic violence
as well as rape.
In August 1999, the East Timorese people 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 proxies murdered at least 2,000 people, raped hundreds of
women and girls, destroyed more than 70 percent of the infrastructure, and
displaced more than 250,000 people to West Timor and other parts of
Indonesia. While most of the displaced have since returned, militia
intimidation, disinformation, economic and other pressures continue to
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 http://www.etan.org.
see also Refugees