Thu, 10 Jul 2003

UNHCR clarifies on East Timor

We would like to provide a clarification regarding the article in The Jakarta Post on July 3, 2003, published under the heading East Timorese refuse to return home. A similar article was also published in under the heading Hundreds refuse to return to East Timor.

A reading of both articles is likely to lead to a misunderstanding of UNHCR's mission in Indonesia due to a number of inaccuracies, which I would like to correct.

The article said, "The demonstrators waved banners, protesting against the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) for trying to force their repatriation with the help of local police." One of UNHCR's functions is to seek durable solutions for refugees through voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement.

With regard to the issue of East Timorese children separated from their families due to the events of 1999, UNHCR is cooperating with the governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste to assist in finding a long-term solution for them that is in the best interests of the children. In order to identify the best interest of the children, the relevant departments of the Indonesian government discuss the matter with the caretakers of the children in order to arrive, wherever possible, at a decision that is mutually agreed between caretakers, parents and the children concerned.

In some cases the decision is for children to return to live with their biological families in Timor-Leste. In other cases, parents decide to allow children to remain with caretakers -- often so that they can complete their education. In the latter, the most important thing is to reestablish the contact between the parents and child so that they can exchange news. In this regard, the cooperation of the caretaker is of paramount importance, to ensure that children receive accurate information about their family and the situation in Timor-Leste.

It is therefore incorrect to state that UNHCR was trying to "force" the children to return, as we seek to establish communication between all parties to allow an informed and free decision to be made.

ROBERT ASHE, Regional Representative, UNHCR, Jakarta

Note: Thank you for your clarification --Editor