Timor-Leste

IRC helps heal East Timor: Reuniting children with parents

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As East Timor officially declares 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.
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. The exact number of the children is not known.

Lubbers said UNHCR was working with the IRC and Indonesian authorities to facilitate the children's return. The three parties have been reuniting children with their parents since they started the project a year ago, but progress has been hampered by continuing violence.

The children had been taken by pro-Indonesian foundations to orphanages in Java during the peak of violence, often with the parents' consent, but with understanding that they would be reunited with their parents when peace was restored.

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 East Timorese voted in favor of independence, which was followed by violent rampages by pro-Indonesian militias. The U.N. says about 205,000 East Timorese refugees returned home, but another 52,000 refugees still remain in West Timor.

Additional information

Media relations:

Edward Bligh (New York, HQ) (212) 551-3114
ebligh@theIRC.org

Melissa Winkler (New York, HQ) (212) 551-0972
melissa@theirc.org

Program activities:

Avril Pendergast-Fischer (New York, HQ) (212) 551-0964
avril@theirc.org