Subject: JP: UNHCR queries return of E. Timorese children

The Jakarta Post June 21, 2002

UNHCR queries return of children

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Tuban, Bali

A senior official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said here on Wednesday that returning East Timorese children -- currently living in Indonesia after being separated from their parents during and after the violent postreferendum mayhem in 1999 -- to East Timor might not be the best solution for some of them.

"For many that is the right solution, but for some, particularly the older ones, it might be better if they stayed and continued their education in Indonesia," head of UNHCR's liaison office Robert P. Ashe said.

Ashe, who had just arrived from East Timor and was on his way to UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, attended a one-hour meeting with chief of the Udayana Regional Military Command, which oversees Bali, East and West Nusa Tenggara provinces, Maj. Gen. Willem T. da Costa at Ngurah Rai International Airport. Ashe is slated to fill the post of UNHCR regional representative for Indonesia in mid-July.

"The important thing is to try to reestablish contact between the children and their biological parents, because, even if the children stay in Indonesia, at some point in the future, when they are 25 years old, or 35 years old, when they have their own family, they may want to go back to East Timor to visit their extended family there, or to visit their biological parents. Therefore, it's important to try and reestablish the contact," he said.

He stressed that the effort to seek a solution to the issue of separated children, along with ways of repatriating as many refugees as possible from East Nusa Tenggara to East Timor, would be the two main priorities of UNHCR in the future.

At present, UNHCR is still in the process of confirming and verifying a large number of reported cases of separated children.

Approximately 2,900 cases of separated children have been reported to the UNHCR, and of those some 1,200 children have been reunited with their parents.

"We are now trying to verify where the separated children are and whether the reported cases are correct or have been misreported," Ashe said.

He cited that East Timor children were separated from their parents because of the security situation back in 1999 when their parents handed them to relatives, who later took them to refugee camps in East Nusa Tenggara.

Others were sent elsewhere within Indonesia to seek better education and also because some families were so large that the parents could not support all their children and handed them to caretakers.

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