East Timorese Refugees In Indonesia Uncertain
Fate Of East Timorese Refugees In Indonesia Uncertain As Deadline Nears
Rights Group Warns International Community Not to Forget Refugees & Children
September 1, 2002 -- The East Timor Action Network/U.S. (ETAN) today warned that Sunday's deadline should not be used as an excuse to abandon some 45,000 East Timorese refugees in Indonesia. The Indonesian government has threatened to close refugee camps in West Timor on September 1, and international agencies plan to end important refugee programs the same day.
"The UN and many foreign governments declared a commitment to East Timor at May's independence ceremony. Where is their support for the five percent of the East Timorese who remain in Indonesia?" asked Miller.
"We are gravely concerned that this weekend's artificial deadline will set the international community on the road toward total abandonment of the remaining refugees," said ETAN spokesperson John M. Miller. "Having failed to address the underlying political cause of the refugee crisis the continued presence of armed, hostile militia the world must not forget these people. We urge the United Nations, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) and others to strengthen their efforts so that every refugee can freely and safely choose between repatriation to East Timor and resettlement in Indonesia."
The Deputy Governor of West Timor where most of the refugees have lived under deplorable conditions for the past three years recently said that the more than two hundred refugee camps must be vacated by September 1. In contrast, the Indonesian national government stated last month that the refugee camps will stay open until the end of 2002, but all monetary and security assistance currently given to repatriating refugees will end on September 1.
The UN-associated IOM has chosen the same date to end its programs in West Timor. The IOM provides information about conditions in East Timor to the refugees, to counter rampant militia disinformation. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has declared that all East Timorese residing in Indonesia will lose their refugee status after December 31, 2002.
Militia abuses in the camps include rape and other physical assaults. Refugee women also suffer high rates of domestic violence. Widespread malnutrition and disease have been reported, with children disproportionately affected.
The more than 1,500 children separated from their parents in 1999, often under coercive conditions, deserve special attention, said ETAN. Many of these children have been placed across Indonesia in orphanages and other institutions, some controlled by militia. Efforts by the UN to reunite the children with their parents in East Timor have met strong opposition.
"These children are especially vulnerable," commented Miller. "The UN must continue its efforts to help reunite them with their parents. The U.S. and other countries must maintain pressure on Indonesia to remove all obstacles hampering reunification of these families," said Miller.
In August 1999, the East Timorese 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 killed at least 2,000 people, raped hundreds of women and girls, destroyed more than 70 percent of the infrastructure, and displaced some 250,000 people to West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. While most refugees have since repatriated, recent returnees report continuing militia intimidation and disinformation.
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.