From "Refugees" to "New Citizens"

The main focus of this study is on youths from 16 to 24 years old who were displaced from their hometown in the East Timor area to West Timor right after the 1999 referendum, which resulted in the victory of pro-independence groups and the inauguration of Timor Leste as a sovereign country. The youths were relocated with their parents and relatives, most of whom were members of the Indonesian Army and pro-integration militia (i.e., the “Indonesia Defender Troops”), which consisted of civil defense groups (i.e., Hansip, Ratih, Wanra, dan Kamra), paramilitary units established in 1970-1980 (i.e., Partisan, Tonsus, Tim Saka, dan Tim Alfa), and other militia groups formed between 1998 and 1999 (Chega! 2013). Nevertheless, many farmers or civilians who were not affiliated with any particular group also were forced by the Indonesian Army to relocate to West Timor in order to promote pro-integration’s claim that many inhabitants wanted to be part of Indonesia. The people were guaranteed that they would only stay in West Timor for three to six months until conditions were made secure; however, in reality they had to stay for an indefinite period.

Since 1999 repatriation has been taking place, and those who remain are often persons identified as human rights violators or those who no longer have any relatives in East Timor to help them start a better life if they go back. When the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released the Declaration of Cessation in 2002, it estimated that 28,000 ex-refugees stayed in Indonesia (UNHCR 2002). The East Timorese, however, claimed almost 200,000 persons were in West Timor, and the local government of East Nusa Tenggara stated that more than 100,000 people stayed (Crisis Group 2011). This imprecise population number was made worse by the unclear regulations for the treatment for East Timorese. Following the UNHCR, the central government ended the refugee status for East Timorese in 2005 and delegated the responsibility to local governments (Crisis Group 2011). Since then, East Timorese commonly are addressed as warga baru, literally meaning new citizen. They lost their rights to be treated as refugees, no longer received financial assistance, and faced limited access to basic services such as housing, land tenure, and job opportunities (IDMC 2010).

The Jesuit Refugee Service recorded that resettlement was a solution offered by the central government, but it has been left unfinished (Gani

  • 2011) . President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised in May 2012 to fully address the problems of East Timorese ex-refugees by 2014 (Haryo
  • 2012) . Following this, one trillion rupiah were allocated to assist with housing construction for East Timorese ex-refugees through the Housing

Program for Low Income Citizens (MBR) from the Ministry of Public Housing (Kemenpera) (Kuswardono 2014).

Nevertheless, to date this program has not been effectively implemented because of significant problems with land tenure. In 2013, UN Habitat, the Center for Internally Displaced People’s Services (CIS) of Timor, and CARE International alongside local governments recorded 3769 East Timorese families staying in Kupang Regency with only 1251 of them having proper housing (UN Habitat 2013). In the kelurahan[1] of Naibonat, 1062 families cannot access proper housing, so many still stay inside ex-refugee camps, on land owned by the Indonesian Army, or on local government land (Kuswardono 2014).[2]

Naibonat has 10,501 inhabitants, and of this number 5086 are East Timorese (UN Habitat 2013). The youths in Naibonat were displaced when they were still toddlers or young children, so they have grown up in refugee-like conditions either inside camps or in semipermanent housing complexes outside camps. Since they were small, they have been addressed as pengungsi, literally a refugee or someone searching for refuge; it is a term that conveys the meaning of a pitiful person who needs help and assistance. It implies “a broad legal or descriptive rubric” that reflects their socioeconomic, historical, and psychological condition (Malkki 1995, 496). East Timor’s separation from Indonesia amplifies the negative perception of “locals” in Naibonat towards East Timorese newcomers. Given the broad use of term the warga baru, the locals “forget” that they are people from the same island, and instead, they view East Timorese, including youths, as distant outsiders.

The term warga baru exacerbates exclusion between Naibonat “locals” and East Timorese “newcomers.” As a 24-year-old youth said:

We have already been here for 15 years, but we are still warga baru.

Although it seems to be a more polite term compared to pengungsi, it still subtly differentiates us from the “locals.”’ I prefer “Indonesian citizen,”

without the “new” frill (Franco,[3] interview on July 12, 2014).

In line with this statement, Miguel Atibau, the Deputy of the Regional Representative Council Uni Timor Aswin North Central Timor Regency, demanded that the political status of the East Timorese to be legalized: “Don’t they call us pengungsi today, East Timorese ex-refugee tomorrow, warga baru day after tomorrow, and warga Indonesia baru afterward” (Bere 2013).

The warga baru label exacerbates insufficient follow ups to resettlement as a durable solution and a lack of social integration programs. Given the enduring perception of a “poor and marginalized population,” the label justifies discrimination against the East Timorese. This term is broadly used by government institutions and various nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as a “reminder” that they still need assistances in order to be able to integrate properly. In line with the ethnopolitical entrepreneur concept (Brubaker 2002), warga baru as a group’s identity often is sustained by social entrepreneurs, who usually are the camp or community leaders, to keep and hold the community’s identity together for the social entrepreneurs to keep making claims.

To understand the condition of the East Timorese youths, I stayed with a family inside the camp area in kelurahan Naibonat in the East Kupang District of the East Nusa Tenggara Province for two months in June and July 2014. Conducting participant observation and indepth interviews, I spent most of the research time following youths’ activities such as plowing the fields, going to church, attending martial arts practice, and spending time with their friends. Male and female youths were visited in their houses to meet their parents and families, and discuss their experiences staying in Naibonat. To grasp a complete picture about the durable solution program, I also met with priests, ethnic group leaders, camp coordinators, a coach of Catholic Youth Organization, elder members of Martial Art groups, and Naibonat’s Head of Village. In addition, as secondary data, I used reports and publications from various NGOs concerned with the issue of the 1999 East Timor refugees, including CIS Timor, UN Habitat, the Institute of Resource Governance and Social Change (IRGSC), and the Penguatan Institusi dan Kapasitas Lokal Foundation (PIKUL), as well as from the East Nusa Tenggara Province official website.

  • [1] Kelurahan is the smallest official structure equal to village in Indonesia.
  • [2] More information about the complexity of land provision for East Timorese housing in theKupang Regency, see Kuswardono, Torry. 2014 “Penyediaan Lahan untuk Pemukiman Warga Barudi Kab. Kupang: Masalah, Tantangan dan Rekomendasi.” IRE, UN Habitat, and EuropeanCommission.
  • [3] All names are pseudonyms to protect the identity of research participants.
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