16 December 2012

250000 East Timorese still in Indonesia 13 years since secession

ETLJB 15 December 2012 Updated 17 December 2012 - According to the peak security sector monitoring civil society organisation in East Timor, Fundasaun Mahein (FM), there are still 250000 East Timorese in Indonesia*, having fled or been forcibly removed from East Timor in the horrendous upheavals in 1999 when the referendum was held on secession from Indonesia. FM says that at least 30000 of them want to return to their homeland and the issue of the return of these refugees has of late become the subject of public rhetoric.

ETLJB reported yesterday certain comments that were attributed to the East Timor military chief, Major-General Lere Anan Timor, that the Government needs to carefully consider the matter and to set criteria for those who wish to return to the country more than 13 years since the break away from Indonesia. But the Major-General has clearly not read the Constitution, Article 44 (2) of which guarantees the free right of return to the home territory to all citizens.

The questions posed by FM which are important are:

1. Why are the refugees only now returning when the UN mandate is at an end?
2. Why does government not facilitate the return of these refugees?

One of the most concerning issues identified by FM relating to the return of refugees is the potential security impacts particularly in relation to land because the lands that they abandoned when they fled may (in ETLJB's opinion, most likely will have been) occupied by other Timorese who stayed or have already returned earlier. How will these land be recovered by the returnees? Will that process lead to further conflicts in an already conflict-riven land sector? What compensation will those who are forced to relinquish the land be entitled to, if any? Even if such parties are compelled to surrender the land to its owners who return under government or traditional institutions without any apparent problems (which some have said has already been the case in some areas where refugees have already returned), it might reasonably be expected that resentment will remain in those who have occupied, cultivated and looked after those abandoned lands for 12 years since secession and this may very well fester as a latent cause of conflict that might manifest itself in other ways later on; probably in violent ways including assaults and murders.

Fundasaun Mahein also notes that among these refugees are Timorese who committed major and minor crimes against humanity. Both the Truth and Friendship Commission of Timor-Leste - Indonesia and the CAVR Commissions recommend compensation to the victims. For those who committed minor crimes, what is the NaheBiti Boot mechanism? At the same time, FM notes further that some of these people did not commit any crimes at all and were actually victims, forced to leave their hometowns, during the Indonesian occupation. All these steps for socialization should be clear because otherwise the confusion will provoke problems.

In addition to the land and past crimes issues, there are also the problems of employment. According to FM, those who fled have had a better chance at education and skills acquisition than, for example, the veterans of the independence struggle and their children and if those refugees obtain employment and the veterans' children do not, this is another possible source of conflict.

Finally, these issues raise the question of what government's policy and plans to do to handle this social problem. There does not seem to be any clear plan or strategies developed by the government to coordinate and manage the return of refugees who are still in Indonesia after all this time nor does there seem to be any dedicated plan to resolve the potential problems that the refugees' return might provoke.

FM therefore proposes some suggestions for the government to consider;

1. that institutions such as the Human Rights Ombudsman, the relevant Committees of the National Parliament, civil society and the media monitor the process of returning refugees;
2. that the government form an integrated team from multiple ministries to deal with this immediately including the identification of how many families in which districts will be impacted by the returnees;
3. that the government provide alternative security in these districts;
4. that the government involves local leaders in impacted communities to successfully socialise and reintegrate the returnees with the local people.

ETLJB respectfully agrees with the insightful observations of Fundasaun Mahein and commends Fundasaun Mahein for raising and analysing this issue. ETLJB also notes that it is probably with good cause then, even if it is an inappropriate intervention by the military to publicy comment on such matters, that Major-General Lere Anan Timor's mind is being exercised by the issue.

*Unfortunately, FM does not cite the source of this figure. One source states on 15 October 2012, that of the estimated 370000 who went to Indonesia in 1999, there were still at least 100000 still in the country in refugee camps. per Herminio Costa 15 October 2012 in  Pandangan Indonesia Terhadap Pengungsi Timor Leste di Indonesia. Source: http://domintimor.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/pandangan-indonesia-terhadap-pengungsi.html  Accessed 17 December 2012.

Another report published in The Jakarta Globe on 19 May 2012 (http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/news/sby-wants-action-on-timorese-refugees/518728), states that "several groups have estimated that between 10,000 and 20,000 East Timorese reside in the Indonesian part of Timor Island, including 5,000 still living in temporary shelters and impoverished conditions. Accessed on 17 December 2012 

International Crisis Group states that a quarter of a million East Timorese fled to Indonesia but does not state, in its article Timor-Leste: Reconciliation and Return from Indonesia at http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-east-asia/timor-leste/B122%20---%20Timor%20Leste%20-%20Return%20and%20Reconciliation%20from%20Indonesia.pdf Accessed 17 December 2012

Author: Warren L. Wright BA LLB  Sources: Fundasaun Mahein and references cited at * above.. Edited by

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