Panca Nugraha, Mataram – Thousands of families residing in Timor Leste before its independence have returned to Indonesia's West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) after passing citizen verification and validation procedures.
The Indonesian citizens, who had lived in the country once known as East Timor under Indonesia's occupation, left their towns after remaining for 17 years as foreigners in a region that they used to call home.
About 1,410 families who now live in West Nusa Tenggara on Monday received cash assistance from the Social Affairs Ministry, channeled through the Mataram branch of Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI).
"As many as 1,410 families formerly living in East Timor have passed verification and validation and received Rp 10 million [about US$740] each," NTB Social Affairs and Population agency head Soemantri told The Jakarta Post.
He said the former East Timor residents currently living in NTB can be found in two cities and eight regencies in the province. "The government hopes the assistance would be useful and help ease their burdens," said Soemantri.
East Timor was once the 27th province of Indonesia. It separated after a referendum and poll in 1999 and is now known as Timor Leste.
In NTB, the former East Timor residents formed the Committee of East Timor Political Victims (Kokpit) in 2012 to fight for legal clarity, especially concerning the houses and land left behind in East Timor.
"We are grateful the government still remembers us. However, our assets are still left in East Timor," former East Timor resident Pramono, 55, after cashing the aid cheque at the Mataram BNI branch.
According to Pramono, ever since leaving East Timor in 1999 he and other former East Timor residents received cash assistance from the Social Affairs Ministry only three times, the first during former president Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration in 2012, amounting Rp 3 million per family, Rp 5 million in 2014 and now Rp 10 million during President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration.
"We hope the government is also willing to fight to repossess the assets of former East Timor residents, as we were forced to leave East Timor just because of the country's problems," he said.
NTB Kokpit deputy head Dominggus Vicente Alves said getting the cash assistance from the Social Affairs Ministry was not the end of the group's struggle, especially since at least 907 families were not included among the 1,410 recipient families currently getting it.
"Kokpit branches in all provinces have been struggling to get the cash assistance for the past three years. In NTB, out of the more than 2,000 families we proposed for the assistance, only 1,410 have been verified, while 907 families failed," he said.
According to Dominggus, nationally about 20,000 former East Timor families in 34 provinces across Indonesia did not pass verification and are unable to receive the assistance.
"But we've asked those who did not pass verification not to be discouraged because we will continue struggling because we must not only fight for the assistance but for how the government could replace the land and houses belonging to the former East Timor residents left behind in Timor Leste," he said.