IRC Helps Heal East Timor: Reuniting Children With Parents
|Alexandrino da Silva (left) became separated from his mother, Francisca, after the outbreak of violence in East Timor in 1999. In June 2001, IRC tracing manager Sico Rangel (center) located Francisca and arranged this joyous reunion. (Photo: Lara McKinley/IRC)|
As East Timor celebrates its new independence this week, the IRC is helping the nation heal wounds of long and bloody conflicts by accelerating its efforts to reunite separated children with their parents.
Tens of thousands of East Timorese fled to Indonesian West Timor during the wave of violence that followed East Timor’s 1999 vote in favor of separation from Indonesia. The violence, led by pro-Indonesian militias, devastated East Timor and scattered thousands of families.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers told a press conference in Dili last weekend that thousands of children remain in Indonesia, separated from their East-Timor based parents, and vice versa. Lubbers said UNHCR is working with the IRC and Indonesian authorities to facilitate the children's return.
A total of 1,212 children have been reunited with their parents since the project started in November 1999 and the IRC has more than 1,450 children registered as still separated from their parents.
The majority of these children are living in West Timor, Indonesia, with caretakers and relatives, while their parents are in East Timor. Hundreds more separated children are believed to be living in other parts of Indonesia, but have not been identified or registered.
Kurt Tjossem, director of the IRC's East Timor office, says the new government of East Timor is eager to participate in the tracing and family reunification process.
At Monday’s ceremony, Xanana Gusmao, a long-time independence fighter, was officially inaugurated as president of the Democratic Republic of East Timor, marking an end to a long history of foreign occupation, first by Portugal and then Indonesia.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio and Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri were among the guests.
The U.N. took control of the territory in 1999 after the violent rampages that followed East Timor’s independence referendum.The U.N. says about 205,000 East Timorese who fled the unrest, have returned home. Another 52,000 refugees still remain in West Timor.