Friday, March 24, 2006

East Timorese refugees

“Approximately 100,000 East Timorese refugees (10% of the current population) are still living in refugee camps in Indonesian West Timor concentrated in Belu district and Atambua. They live in temporary barracks, with no access to education and adequate health facilities. The fate of these people is still unknown and remains a neglected agenda of the post conflict era.

The Indonesian government offered to transmigrate the refugees to other parts of Indonesia but most refused as they prefer to stay on the island of Timor. They want to stay close to their birthplace so they can easily visit their families in Timor-Leste whenever they want.

The Indonesian government’s attempts to transmigrate the refugees hasn’t been easy as the decision to stay or not is a group decision. Adherence to traditional customs means that the East Timorese live within the same location as other families of the same bloodline which can amount to tens of people.

The major problem that prevents repatriation is the fear of retaliation. Although individuals may not be directly connected to acts of violence committed in 1999, they are afraid they might be connected with members of families involved with the pro-integration militias. Thus they are still unsure whether to go home, stay, or return at a later date.

The problem is that West Timor does not have the natural resources to accommodate the thousands of people hungry for land. Forests are destroyed as wood is felled for firewood and building material and land is used for farming.

If not thoroughly resolved, the refugee problem may not only mitigate efforts to develop peaceful and friendly relations between Indonesia and Timor-Leste, but also may become a source of conflict in the future. Currently, several community groups in West Timor have initiated actions to ask refugees to leave land they are occupying. Informal jobs in the district are supposedly taken by the refugees. The burden for West Timor is enormous as it is categorized as one of the poorest provinces of Indonesia.”

Source: Captivates [sic] of Peace in Timor Island by P. Bambang Wisudo in Kompas, 21 March 2006 (from UNOTIL Public Information Office, Daily Media Review)

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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