Subject: JRS: Words of refugees

Source: Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Date: 2 Apr 2002 JRS Dispatches No. 109

(Extracted from JRS Dispatches No. 109)

IN THE WORDS OF REFUGEES: RETURNING TO EAST TIMOR

"The government has stopped giving food assistance. Why should we not return? We don't want to die starving here. We want to go back to our motherland. We are not TNI (Indonesian Military) or public servants. We are ordinary people and we don't get a monthly payment. How can we eat if the government cuts off food assistance." These were the words spoken by Mauriano da Silva from Leuro, Los Palos, explaining to JRS and UNHCR his reasons for leaving Tuapukan camp to return home to East Timor. Leading 55 other returnees, Mauriano said that since JRS had assisted them in excavating the tombs of their relatives who had died in the camps, they had no reason left to stay.

"I sent my wife and children to East Timor, while I remain here because I have political and private reasons not to return. I alone am able to survive though the government has stopped the food assistance. I don't want to see my family starving and dying here. I will return to East Timor some day, but not in the near future." An ex-militia man in Fatuluti transit centre, Kupang on 19 March. His wife and 115 others returned to East Timor on 20 March with the assistance of the Refugee Task Force from Kupang.

JRS in Betun, West Timor, has completed a report on the progress of repatriation of East Timorese refugees from Betun. The report, based on observations by JRS in Betun, seeks to shed some light on why so many of the refugees have so far refused to return home to East Timor. Currently, there are still some ten to fifteen thousand East Timor refugees living in over 40 different camps throughout Betun.

However, very recently an increasing number of East Timor refugees in West Timor have opted for repatriation. The main reasons for return are:

1. The cutting off of food and money assistance from the Indonesian government.

2. Political activities, especially the presidential election and the approaching declaration of Independence in East Timor. The refugees want to use their rights as citizens to elect their first president.

3. The success of grassroots reconciliation programmes.

4. The Indonesian government has been devoting more attention to the repatriation programme.

JRS DISPATCHES is from the International Office of Jesuit Refugee Service, CP 6139, 00195 Roma Prati, Italy. Tel: +39-06 689.77.391; Fax: +39-06 687.92.83; Email: dispatches@jesref.org; JRS on-line: http://www.jesref.org ; Publisher: Lluís Magriñà SJ; Editor: Hugh Delaney; Translation: Ignacio Echaniz(Spanish), Edith Castel (French), Centro Astalli/JRS Italy (Italian).


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