U.

etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668

East Timorese in Indonesia to Lose Refugee Status at New Year

International Community Must Continue Efforts on Behalf of Vulnerable Children & Adults

December 30, 2002 -- The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) today warned that ending official refugee status for East Timorese in Indonesia at the close of this year would not end the problem. ETAN also called on Indonesia and the international community to step up efforts to reunite children involuntarily separated from their parents.

"The United Nations and Indonesia hope that ending their status as refugees will force East Timorese in Indonesia to choose whether to resettle or go home. But this assumes that all the refugees have the information and freedom to make a choice without coercion," said John M. Miller, spokesperson for ETAN.

"Militia disinformation and pressure, as well as security and economic concerns pertaining to East Timor, continue to keep tens of thousands of East Timorese from repatriating. Calling them 'Indonesian citizens' instead of 'refugees' cannot resolve these complex issues," said Miller.

"The UN and its international donors must not walk away from this problem, nor should the Indonesian government. The UN must continue public information and repatriation programs after its self-imposed December 31 deadline," said Miller.

"The hundreds of children involuntarily separated from their parents during and after the referendum period deserve special attention," said Karen Orenstein, ETAN's Washington Representative. The exact number of children in unknown, but may total well over a thousand.

Militia and other pro-integrationists put many of these children into orphanages and other institutions across Indonesia. Efforts by the UN and other international agencies to reunite the children with their parents in East Timor have met strong opposition from their "guardians" and indifference from Indonesian officials.

"Indonesia, as a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, must ensure these children can return to their families. The Indonesian government's lack of action to date is shocking," stated Orenstein.

“The Indonesian government must remove all obstacles hampering reunification of these families and provide full support to the UN and other agencies in reunification efforts. Those responsible for taking the children should be prosecuted,” she added. “The U.S. and other governments must pressure Indonesia to fulfill its legal obligations. The UN must also intensify its efforts to reunite these children with their parents."

The Indonesian government and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have declared that all East Timorese residing in Indonesia will lose their refugee status after December 31, 2002. UNHCR estimates that 30,000 refugees remain in camps in West Timor; more live outside the camps or elsewhere in Indonesia. Few have returned since East Timor became independent last May. Although there was an upsurge in repatriation rates in early 2002, as people returned to celebrate East Timor's independence in May, the number of returnees has again plummeted. Fewer than 300 repatriated during November.

The Indonesian government has yet to fully address the security threat militia leaders living among the refugees in West Timor pose to independent East Timor. Payment of pensions and other compensation issues for former East Timorese civil servants under the Indonesian occupation have also not been adequately resolved.

Widespread malnutrition and disease, especially among children, have been reported in the camps. Women suffer high rates of domestic violence as well as rape.

In August 1999, the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in a UN-organized referendum, ending 24 years of brutal military occupation. Following the vote, the Indonesian military and its militia proxies murdered at least 2,000 people, raped hundreds of women and girls, destroyed more than 70 percent of the infrastructure, and displaced more than 250,000 people to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. While most of the displaced have since returned, militia intimidation, disinformation, economic and other pressures continue to discourage returns.

The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy, sustainable development, social, legal and economic justice, and human rights, including women's rights. For more information, see ETAN's web site at http://www.etan.org.

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see also Refugees pages


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