Subject: JP: Refugees join resettlement program

Refugees join resettlement program

The Jakarta Post November 15, 2002

Yemris Fointuna, The Jakarta Post, Kupang

With the deadline for the closure of refugee camps here drawing near, 121 East Timorese families have registered for the government-sponsored resettlement program.

The head of the operation dealing with the refugees, Lt. Col. Pieter Lobo, said on Thursday the East Timorese families would be resettled on Sumba island in East Nusa Tenggara.

"There is the possibility many other families will follow suit given that the closing date for registration is drawing near," Pieter said.

For the last two years, the government has been asking the East Timorese refugees who poured into East Nusa Tenggara in 1999 to choose between repatriation and resettlement. They have been given until the end of December before the government closes down the refugee camps scattered across the province.

An estimated 250,000 East Timorese fled their homes to escape the widespread violence that occurred after the territory voted for independence in a UN-administered referendum in 1999.

The government has promoted the resettlement program through a number of East Timorese leaders who have opted to retain their Indonesian citizenship.

"We sent these figures to the refugee camps to persuade their fellow East Timorese to join the resettlement program. The figures also are expected to inform their people about what their new homes will look like," Pieter said.

A joint team comprising representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the local and central governments visited Sumba recently to observe the island's readiness to receive the East Timorese refugees.

"Hearing that people on the island will welcome the refugees, we will start transferring the East Timorese to the resettlement area immediately," Pieter said.

The government also has encouraged those who wish to return to East Timor by providing them with an incentive in the form of Christmas and New Year's donations amounting to Rp 1.5 million (US$165) per family.

On Thursday, 21 more families left Kupang for their homes in East Timor.

There are about 30,000 East Timorese refugees remaining in camps across East Nusa Tenggara. East Timor President Xanana Gusmao visited the refugees earlier this month to call on them to return home.

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