Section title text:  Archived News.

The Faithful Companions of Jesus in Kupang, West Timor

Welcome Back from Kupang, Afra!

After having worked for a year with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Sr Afra fcJ left Kupang (West Timor) on Christmas Day 2000 to attend the FCJ Congress, held in Australia, in preparation for the new FCJ province of Asia-Australia. In January 2001, she returned to Yogyakarta to finish her theology studies.

Since September 1999, when most of the East Timorese people wanted independence from Indonesia, many East Timorese fled because of the terrible destruction and killings caused by those who didn't agree with the result of the referendum which favoured independence from Indonesia. Many of these people came to West Timor. Because of the great need there and at the request of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the FCJs agreed to send two sisters, Afra Primadiana fcJ and Francisca Yohana Sri Winarsih (Inez), a postulant at the time, to work with JRS in West Timor.

Afra with Timorese ladyAfra left for Kupang on February 11 and was welcomed by JRS volunteers in the green of Kupang's rainy season. There were 125,000 refugees in the camps in West Timor in February 2000. JRS accompanied refugees in camps in three areas: Atambua, Betun (both near the border of West and East Timor), and Kupang. Afra began to go daily to the wet and muddy camps in Kupang, learning to know the people and the situation there.

JRS is present within the camps in order to accompany the refugees, to serve the needs there and to plead the cause of these our brothers and sisters. As so much wrong information is spread in the camps about East Timor, we saw the need to help the refugees by providing them with accurate information. We offered to take their letters to East Timor and to bring back letters for them from their families there.

We showed recent photos and gave true information about the situation and the people in East Timor so that they would see that the rumours were not true. Most East Timorese are Catholic and so, in this time of confusion, many turn to religious sisters and priests and are ready to believe them with regard to information about East Timor.

Afra with Timorese man and child.On February 28 Afra went to the district of Ambeno in East Timor.

It was a moving experience to see the remains of the destruction of the September '99 mayhem - many deserted and burnt houses. On the other hand, Afra saw many children playing happily, sensing an atmosphere of freedom. Sadly it has to be said that the children in East Timor looked happier than those in the camps in West Timor. It motivated her even more to help the East Timorese in the camps to return to their homeland.

On March 17 – 19 all the JRS volunteers from Kupang, Atambua and Betun gathered in Betun for a workshop. They went to the border to see the burial place of some people, including a recently ordained Jesuit priest, who were killed in Suai in September 1999. This coming together of all the JRS volunteers was a moving experience, because there were so many young people filled with love and the energy to help the refugees.

When so many people live cramped in a small area, many social conflicts arise. On April 8 there was a fight (almost a war!) among the refugees. One refugee was killed and many families took refuge (again!) in nearby places that were considered relatively safe. More and more incidents also occurred with the local people who became afraid of the refugees. And the refugees, from their side, gave no sign that they were going to leave the camps.

Inez with Timorese people.Inez came to join Afra and the West Timor JRS on April 18. That evening she and Afra were already on a bus to Atambua, and the next day they went into East Timor with other JRS volunteers. There, Inez and Afra spent Holy Week visiting in Lospalos and Viqueque. Although unexpected (no way of communicating, no telephone outside of Dili), their welcome was warm. The people in East Timor were really hungry to hear news about their families and others who were still in the camps. We delivered and collected letters and took some photos.

Coming back to the camp in Kupang, these letters and photos stirred the emotions of many who expressed their happiness at getting news about their families, or felt relieved to see that the situation in East Timor was not as bad as they had been told.

Afra with mother and baby.Afra in a discussion.Afra made another trip to East Timor from May 16 – 27. This time she went on the boat with some returnees. She planned to accompany them to their villages, but because of the bad weather, many roads were damaged and the returnees had to wait a few days in the transit centre in Dili.

Afra then went to Viqueque and Lospalos before them, meeting some earlier returnees and some families or relatives of those who were still in West Timor. It was a privilege to be the channel of contact for people separated by political conflict.

Inez and other JRS volunteers made a trip to East Timor on July 29 – August 6 and, this time, took a video camera. But because not everyone likes the work we do in the camps (especially those who don’t want the East Timorese to return), we didn’t show the video in the camps. Instead, we invited little groups to see the video in our house and dialogue about it afterwards. Then, on August 25, Inez returned to Yogya to continue her formation. She had done wonderful work with the refugees, knowing them personally, helping with repatriation and assisting some women to generate income through traditional weaving.

In September we moved to a new rented house. We also got a new JRS director, Edi Mulyono SJ. On September 6, there was a serious incident in Atambua. when a militia leader was found dead, and three UNHCR staff were killed by angry militias. The UN evacuated its staff and the NGOs evacuated most of their members. JRS volunteers in Atambua and Betun went to Dili in East Timor. JRS in Kupang became the only NGO presence in the city and in the camps. We tried to remain present for the sake of the refugees but had to act cautiously because of the militia who didn’t like people helping repatriation or giving true information. It was a new beginning for us because the need and the situation in the camps had changed, now that no other NGOs were present.

In East Timor, from November 6 – 9, we had a very good meeting of West Timor JRS and East Timor JRS which we had kept secret from the refugees (because of the uncertain situation with the militias). We were able to pray and relax as well as clarify our vision and mission together as one group. Hopefully we would be able to work together from each side for the sake of the refugees. After the meeting, Afra and some friends went to Viqueque to visit some returnees. Afra discovered that not all the returnees were welcome in their villages. Some returnees were still afraid to go out of their homes although they had been back for a few weeks or even months! Reconciliation is really needed, to forgive and to ask forgiveness, and together start a new period of living.

Afra with Timorese Mother and children.Before Christmas the people in the Tuapukan camp, Kupang, worked hand in hand with the local Catholics to prepare for it. But although they had tried very hard to plan a great celebration, there were many who had tears on their cheeks during the liturgy because they remembered their families who were dead or who were in East Timor. Separation is the big suffering that the people have.

It was on Christmas day also that Afra said goodbye to the people because she had finished her term with JRS and had to go back to Yogyakarta. It seems that the problems of the refugees will not be solved quickly.

Afra Primadiana fcJ

Logo - JRS Refugee Service.Jesuit Refugee Service

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Our little Society has for its end
     to glorify the heart of Jesus
           by  every means in its power ...     (Marie Madeleine)