ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 8, No. 2
Winter  2002-2003

Congress Moves to Renew Military Ties with Indonesian Military

Indonesian Verdicts Strengthen Calls for International Tribunal

East Timor Puts U.S. Soldiers Above the Law

Will the Refugees Be Forgotten?

Indonesia Network Update

Remembering Senator Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)

Stories from Ainaro

The State of International Aid to East Timor

Kissinger Protests

About East Timor and the East Timor Action Network

Winter 2002-03

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Will the Refugees Be Forgotten?

by Diane Farsetta

For more than three years, the estimated 40,000 East Timorese still in Indonesia have endured intimidation, violence (including sexual assault and domestic abuse), malnutrition, disease, isolation and uncertainty in squalid, militia-controlled camps.

A series of events this spring — the end of the rice harvest in Indonesian West Timor, the Easter holiday, the presidential election and independence day in East Timor — did encourage many to repatriate. From April to August, significantly increased repatriation rates resulted in just over 24,500 East Timorese returning home.
But the Indonesian government announced all monetary and security assistance for repatriation would end on September 1 (although recent reports indicate continuing financial assistance has been promised, but not paid). The same day, the International Organization for Migration ended its programs, which provided accurate information about East Timor to refugees via radio and newsprint. Only 113 people returned during September, due at least in part to the lack of information and help.

This sounds bad, but the future looks worse. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has declared that all East Timorese in Indonesia will lose their refugee status after December 31, 2002. Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), a nongovernmental organization that has worked in West and East Timor since 1999, supports the UNHCR decision, saying the situation in East Timor is safe and that the refugees should return to assist in nation-building.

ETAN agrees with JRS’ arguments, but is concerned the UNHCR decision will not facilitate repatriation. Many East Timorese remain in Indonesia because of fear, disinformation, intimidation and/or pressure from village leaders. The loss of refugee status will not change these conditions. In fact, it will reduce what little leverage the international community currently has to pressure Indonesia to disarm and disband the militias, the action most likely to end East Timor’s refugee crisis.

Not all refugees are in West Timor. Nearly 1500 East Timorese children separated from their parents in 1999 are being held in orphanages and other institutions throughout Indonesia. These children cannot contact their families; an Australian reporter was told by one young abductee he couldn’t see his mother because “the war was still on” in East Timor.

The UNHCR is in charge of locating and returning these children, but admits ongoing negotiations with Indonesian authorities have gone “painfully slowly.” It has enlisted the help of the UN Human Rights Commission, now led by former UN head in East Timor Sergio Vieira de Mello, and promises efforts on behalf of the children will continue after December 31. Yet negotiations have been going on for years, with minimal success.
ETAN will continue to apply pressure to ensure these people —five percent of East Timor’s population — are not forgotten.

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