Subject: SpecialReport: Pro-integration refugees tell of hardship

Sunday, August 16, 2009 6:07 AM

SpecialReport: Pro-integration refugees tell of hardship

Sat, 08/15/2009 1:37 PM | Special Report

Tears roll down the face of 31-year-old Maria da Corta as she relates the fate of her 13-month-old daughter, Modestina de Araujo, who doctors say is suffering from acute malnutrition.

She only has a few more days to live, they say. Maria says she is resigned to her fate.

"I have no more money and can only rely on donations while I continue praying," says Maria, who lives in the home of a local resident in Oebelo, East Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara.

Maria is a former East Timorese refugee living in uncertainty. Since leaving East Timor for Indonesia in 1999, Maria says her family has not been able to rise from poverty, especially since the death of her husband, Domingus da Costa, from a lung disease.

At the time, the family was looking for a place to stay. Maria then lodged with one of her relatives.

The house in which Maria, from Viqueque, East Timor, and her six children live is a modest one, with a thatched-grass roof, rickety wooden walls and dirt floor. Located in a resettlement area, the house sits at a tilt.

There is an outhouse behind it and a porch at the front.

Winston Rondo, director of the Center for Internally Displaced Persons Service (CIS), says the hardship experienced by Maria and her family has gone on for years.

"Just from their names, the new citizens or Indonesian citizens of East Timorese descent already face discrimination," Winston tells The Jakarta Post.

CIS Timor says the former East Timor refugees have been deprived of their rights and are now barely surviving.

The option to return and become East Timorese citizens is no longer possible. CIS data shows the Indonesian government stopped providing relief aid to them in 2002.

The resettlement program, initiated by various parties, including the Indonesian Military (TNI), has not been effective. The construction of resettlement homes has led to land disputes between the refugees and local residents.

Winston says the resettlement program in Oebelo, Kupang, is one of the worst examples. The construction project, initially funded by Japanese aid worth Rp 51 billion (US$5.1 million), complete with a clean water facility and a church, was part of a compensation program for local residents, but sparked problems when the resettlement homes were built too close to local homes.

The resettlement site in Weliura, Atambua, revealed 4-by-6-meter homes built in a hilly area. The road to the site was built of limestone, which became slippery when it rained. The resettlement site was not connected to tap water or the power grid.

"We built all the facilities ourselves, including a school in the middle of the complex," says local resident Esperanza Lopes, adding elementary school students in Weliura will begin the new school year there.

Problems also arise when the former East Timorese seek jobs. In East Timor, they cultivated their own farms, but not in East Nusa Tenggara. A few lease farmland from local residents, but many cannot afford it.

They also claim to be discriminated against by the local community, who they say stigmatize them as being "rough and intolerant".

"Jealousy also prevails among the local community against the former East Timorese refugees, due to the various assistance they received," says Dionato Moriera, a CIS Timor worker in Atambua, citing the UNHCR aid program in the form of fishing boats for refugees in Lospalos, Baukau and Viqueque.

"The assistance has fueled the inter-group conflict," Winston says.

More efforts to aid the former East Timorese require the resolution of underlying issues, the CIS says, adding land negotiations based on traditional approaches to local residents is needed to minimize disputes and end stigmatization.

This way, the CIS goes on, stories like those of Maria da Costa and her six children will no longer be repeated.

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