Subject: UNHCR clarifies status of seperated children
Your Letter February 13, 2004
We would like to clarify several points raised in the article, Refugee children, child abuse still prevails in RI, which was published by The Jakarta Post on Monday, Feb. 9, 2004.
The article mentions that "East Timorese children separated from their parents or families numbered 4,527 by July 2003. Of these, 2,284 have been repatriated and reunited with their families, while 1,500 are still in Indonesia". As of July 2003, a durable solution had been found for all but 524 registered cases, which remained pending at that time.
Updated figures, as of December 2003, show that, of a total of 4,538 cases registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since November 1999, it was agreed that 1,005 children would remain with their caretakers locally -- in Indonesia or Timor Leste -- while 2,299 children were reunited with their parents.
The article also mentions that "Some of the East Timorese children in West Timor, South Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara and Central Java have been returned to their families. Others, however, have reportedly rejected going back to East Timor and have decided to stay with their Indonesian foster parents to continue their studies".
Please note that, as of December 2003, only 385 cases remained pending. UNHCR is cooperating with the Indonesian government and the Timor Leste government to find a long-term solution for these remaining cases. In order to identify what kind of solution would be in the best interests of the children, relevant government departments will explore the options with the caretakers.
In some cases, a child may be returned to their biological family in Timor Leste. In other cases, the child's parents will decide to let their child stay with the caretaker -- often so that they can complete their education.
In the latter case, it is important to reestablish contact between the parents and the child. In this regard, the cooperation of the caretaker, in ensuring that the child receives accurate news of their family, is of paramount importance.
It may lead to misunderstanding to state that "Many refugee children are unable to go to school, as their parents have no source of income at the refugee camps". UNHCR, together with the Indonesian and Timor Leste governments, seeks to establish communication between all parties to allow for an informed and free decision.
UNHCR, together with the authorities, will continue to look for and facilitate solutions for child refugees. We look forward to the active cooperation of the Post in assisting us to provide accurate, clear and comprehensive information on this, by no means simplistic issue, to the public.
ROSA SIERRA SIERA UNHCR Jakarta
Note: Thank you for your correction.
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