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Dungannon: NI's 'diversity town' goes to the polls

BBC News - May 21, 2023

Niall McCracken – One of Northern Ireland's fastest-growing migrant communities are casting their votes for elections thousands of miles away.

More than 2,000 people from East Timor who are living in Northern Ireland are registered to vote in their country's parliamentary elections on Sunday.

It's being made possible because of a specially designated polling station set up in County Tyrone.

It comes just days after Northern Ireland's local council elections.

The East Timorese parliamentary election coincides with Northern Ireland's first-ever Timorese-themed festival that is taking place in Dungannon this weekend.

'It's my second home'

The past decade has seen a huge increase in the number of people from East Timor coming to Northern Ireland.

Many work in the food-processing and manufacturing industries in the Craigavon and Dungannon areas.

The 2011 census recorded that 894 people born in East Timor were living in Northern Ireland.

But according to the latest 2021 census data, there were 2,874 people from East Timor here, with more than 2,000 based in the Mid-Ulster area.

More than half of the students at St Patrick's College in Dungannon are "newcomer pupils"

Schools in Dungannon also have a high proportion of newcomer pupils – those who may have been born outside the UK and do not initially speak the same language as their teacher.

Roy Setiawan, who is originally from East Timor but has been living in Dungannon for more than 20 years, said he came to Northern Ireland for employment and that it has become his second home.

"We call Dungannon the diversity town because of all the people we have here from a wide range of different cultures and backgrounds."

Mr Setiawan is chairman of the Timorese Association Inclusive Support (TAIS).

The group has been working with Dungannon Enterprise Centre to organise polling stations for the East Timorese elections at the Hill of The O'Neill historical site in Dungannon.

Mr Setiawan added: "We know that there are roughly 2,400 people from East Timor registered to vote in Northern Ireland.

"As a people, even though we are living far away from home, we are proud to contribute to our country to help decide who will run East Timor for the next number of years."

History of East Timor

East Timor is a small island nation in south-east Asia. It achieved independence in May 2002 but the road was long and traumatic.

Portugal began to establish colonial control over Timor in the 16th century, when the island was divided into small states.

The Netherlands later colonised the west of the island, which was formally partitioned between the two imperial powers in 1916.

Portugal invested little in Timor, and withdrew unilaterally in 1975 after deciding to dissolve its colonial empire.

Indonesia invaded within days of the Timorese declaration of independence, and used force to crush popular resistance.

An independent report commissioned by the UN transitional administration in East Timor said at least 100,000 Timorese died as a result of Indonesia's 25-year occupation.

Falintil guerrillas fought for independence. Their cause captured world attention in 1991 when Indonesian forces opened fire on a memorial procession in the capital, Dili.

International pressure increased and finally persuaded Indonesia to allow an independence referendum in 1999.

The 2023 East Timor parliamentary elections follow the presidential election last year and will see 17 parties vying for the nation's votes.

As well as coinciding with East Timor's national elections, the festival in Dungannon also takes place on the anniversary of the country's independence day.

It's being called "What's the Croc?", tying together the ancient connections of the crocodile in East Timor and craic, the Irish slang for having a good time.

It takes place at various locations throughout Dungannon, including the The Space At Market Square.

Francisco Mok, who is chairman of the Timorese Festival, was born in East Timor but came to live in Northern Ireland 10 years ago.

He said: "This is the first time we've done something like this and we wanted to celebrate the rich and diverse culture of East Timor, showcasing our music, dance, arts and crafts, as well as our cuisine.

"East Timor food is delicious – lots of rice, sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn – these are the things we want to bring to the people of Dungannon and Northern Ireland."

As well as providing entertainment, organisers said the festival is a chance to promote cultural exchange and further understanding among the local communities.

Mr Mok added: "Obviously when people don't know you at the beginning, there might be the risk of prejudice or it may seem like you're not welcome.

"But I have found that as times goes by, once we get to know each other more, there is more understanding of each other and you feel more welcome and that makes you want to bring more value to the community, that is what it is all about."

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-6562263