Subject: JP: Govt to repatriate thousands of East Timorese refugees in August

Jakarta Post June 15, 2002

Govt to repatriate thousands of East Timorese refugees in August

SANUR, Bali (JP): The Indonesian government is expected to complete the repatriation process of 10,000 families of refugees back to East Timor by August this year, in a bid to resolve thecomplex refugee problems and to ease the financial burden that the state has to shoulder for the past few years.

"We want to solve this East Timor refugee problem quickly. Now we are focusing on how to speed up the repatriation program, and how to motivate the refugee so they are willing to return to East Timor," Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah said here on Wednesday night after officially opening the coordination meeting on East Timor refugee.

The three-day meeting was attended by Udayana Military Commander, Maj. Gen. Willem T. Da Costa, East Nusa Tenggara Vice Governor Johannes Pakepani, UNHCR's representatives Robert White and Fernando Protti, International Organization for Migration (IOM) representatives Sarah Domingo and Suparanto, and several Indonesian high-ranking official.

The government also has to complete a plan to cope with another 10,000 families of East Timorese refugees that opted to stay within Indonesia's territory.

Some 7,000 families would be relocated into various area in East Nusa Tenggara province, and the remaining 3,000 families would be migrated into several provinces, such as into East Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

"Our priority now is on the repatriation program. As long as the refugees are willing to be repatriated, the Indonesian government is ready to increase, or even to double up, the amount of financial assistance for them," Bachtiar told.

Currently, the government is willing to give around Rp 1.5 million in cash to each refugee who agreed to join the repatriation program.

Previously, the amount for similar financial assistance was around Rp 750,000.

Up to May 22 the number of East Timor refugees who were still living in various camps in East Nusa Tenggara was 25,617 families, or some 134,568 people.

Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)'s data showed that up to June 6 the number of East Timor refugees that had been successfully repatriated was 21,300 families or 106,456 people, and the number of refugees that hadreturned to East Timor on voluntary basis was around 9,700 families or 48,500 people.

The financial burden created by the East Timor refugee problem was enormous. From 1999 to 2001 the government had spent some Rp 133 billion in various refugee assistance programs.

Furthermore, the government had also spent around Rp 12 billion to finance the 2001's repatriation programs, and allocated another Rp 22 billion to finance similar programs in 2002.

Meanwhile, to speed up the repatriation process, the Indonesian government estimated that some US$25 million fund would be needed.

"Some Rp 900 billion of the total Rp 1.3 trillion annual budget of the ministry of social affairs has been used for refugee assistance programs in various places in this country," Bachtiar said.

"If we are able to solve refugees problem, such as that concerning the East Timor refugee, our financial burden will be substantially decreased, and we will be able to use that Rp 900 billion for other important scheme, such as poverty alleviation," Bachtiar told. (zen)

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