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USIS Washington File

06 October 1999

UNHCR Protests Indonesian Plan to Register Refugees

(Indonesia should leave registration process to UNHCR) (510)
By Wendy Lubetkin
Washington File Correspondent
Geneva -- The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has
protested the Indonesian government's plan to register East Timorese
refugees in West Timor without international involvement and
supervision.
Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, demanded full
access to the estimated 230,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor
and said she was concerned that, under the process proposed by
Jakarta, refugees will not be able to speak freely.
UNHCR expressed deep concern that many of the refugees were taken to
West Timor against their will by anti-independence militias and fear
that those same militias are continuing to intimidate the refugees
living in squalid camps in West Timor. It has sent a letter to the
Indonesian government protesting the plan.
Ogata said the credibility of the return operation will depend on
"unhindered access to all displaced persons" and assurance that the
refugees are able to make decisions based on free choice.
The United States has also urged Indonesia to leave the refugee
registration process to UNHCR.
Julia Taft, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees
and Migration, says the U.S. has "made several demarches to the
Indonesians that they should not do the registration."
"The registration needs to be done by the United Nations to insure
that people understand what their options are and can make a decision
in confidentiality and safety," Taft said, speaking at a press
conference in Geneva October 4.
"There is a lot of intimidation, there is a lot of fear on the part of
these people that they might be dealt with with impunity if they were
to announce that they wanted to go home. That is why we have asked the
UNHCR to be totally responsible for the registration and to make all
the arrangements for return," she continued.
Indonesia's proposed plan for registration would require refugees to
fill in a form stating whether they wish to return to East Timor, stay
permanently or temporarily in West Timor, or whether they would join
the Indonesian government's "transmigration program."
Following Indonesia's decision last week to allow East Timorese to
return home, UNHCR is moving ahead with plans to start repatriation by
air. The U.N. refugee agency plans to operate two flights a day with a
chartered Transall 160 aircraft, which can carry 90 passengers each
trip.
The first to be transported will be Dili residents, UNHCR said October
6. UNHCR assessment missions inside East Timor have found thousands of
people hiding in the hills west of Dili, still afraid to return to
their homes.
Taft said the plan is for UNHCR to work with the INTERFET peacekeeping
force to determine which villages are safe for return. "We believe
that early repatriation does make sense," she said. Despite the
widespread destruction in East Timor, "the sooner they can get back
home the better they are for their well-being."
[The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.]



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