Home News Timor Leste ‘If You Have Time, Please Come Home’: The Divided Families of Timor Leste

‘If You Have Time, Please Come Home’: The Divided Families of Timor Leste

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Foto: Citra 

Download Indonesia occupied neighboring East Timor for 24 years.

During that time around four thousand Timorese children were taken out of the country by Indonesians - with and without permission from their parents.

Following Timor Leste’s independence some of those divided families have been reunited but others are still searching.

Citra Prastuti meets with one such family.


Speaking over the phone from his village about 100 miles from Dilli, Miguel Amaral recalls the day his six year old son Cipriano was taken away.

“It was 1977. The Indonesians came in a military helicopter. My wife and I were not at home when our son was taken. We had no warning. We just saw a helicopter flying away with our son in it.  We had no warning whatsoever.”

An Indonesian member of parliament had come to his village promising free education for children from poor families, but she failed to tell the parents that their children would be taken away.

Cipriano’s uncle, Urbano, who was six-years-old at the time, was also taken.

He says as children they were excited about flying in a helicopter for the first time.

“It was like riding in a big truck, but it was confusing, how come we were flying high in the sky in a helicopter? Maybe God was showing his love for us and giving us a chance....we were from a poor family but we were being given an opportiunity to fly in a helicopter!  Not everyone gets to do that.  But Cipriano and I did.”

Cipriano, Urbano and the other children from the village were put in an orphanage run by the Indonesian military.

One year later, Cipriano was taken away again.

“In 1978 some Indonesian soldiers’ wives came to visit. Cipriano was a cute looking boy with white pale skin. Cipriano and another girl were chosen and taken away. I don’t remember the month.  Cipriano has been missing since.”

Later Urbano and 20 other Timorese children were taken to live in an orphanage in Indonesia and given a free education until high school in the city of Bandung.

He was then given a chance go home to Timor Leste, but he decided to stay and study economics at university.

After he graduated in 2008 he returned to Timor Leste, now an independent nation.

He returned to his village and met with Cipriano’s parents who kept asking him: how come you have come home and our son hasn’t?

Miguel says he had no idea where to begin looking for his son.

It’s estimated that there are hundreds of families like Miguel’s who are still looking for their children.

After gaining independence from Indonesia in 1999, Timor Leste set up a fact-finding commission called CAVR to investigate what happened to Timorese people during the Indonesian occupation.

A small part of the report published seven years ago acknowledged that children were taken out of the country.

But the current head of the comission Agustinho de Vasconcelos says there is not much more they can do to try and find these children now.

“Basically the least we can do is keep collecting information about lost children’s cases. But then we have to wait and see how we can proceed from there because to be truthful there are just too many cases for us too handle.”

An estimated four thousand Timorese children were taken out of the country during Indonesia’s brutal 24 year long occupation of the country.

Vitor da Costa, who was one of the lost children now heads the Jakarta based families of missing people association.

His parents died when he was young and he was adopted by an Indonesian family who raised him in Jakarta.

“My foster father said that when he was working in Timor Leste and got sick I used to come and massage him everyday. I had a bloated stomach because I was malnourished. I asked him for food.  He then told his assistant to tell my family that he was going to take me back to Indonesia with him and look after me.”

His relatives agreed because they were too poor to take care of him.

Vitor’s stepfather always made it clear to him that he was Timorese but it was not till he was 34 years old that he went home.

“For a long time it was just a dream in my heart. I didn’t have the money or know how I could go home.  So I just pushed the idea aside.  It was not till 2004 that I was finally able to go home.”

He took a month off work and travelled to Timor Leste to look for surviving members of his family.

“When I reached Timor Leste, I felt really happy. But I was also confused, I did not know where to go, who to meet. I wanted to look for my family but I did not know who to ask. The only people I could count on were friends from human rights community in Dilli.”

It was through them that he finally got in contact with his family.

But he was not welcomed back into his village straight away.

“They said I was considered dead, so they built a small grave in between my parents’ graves. I have to be brought back to life again through some rituals. I felt sad... and angry. I was angry, why did they build a grave for me? Why didn’t they look for me? I was angry with my family. But they said, the situation back then was different, it was a difficult time. They did not know where and how to find me. They asked me to understand the situation that separated us.”

Six years later, after saving enough money to pay for the necessary rituals, Vitor went back to Timor Leste again and met with his family.  

“That was the happiest moment in my life.. I was so thankful that I got to experience it. Even though I was not able to meet my parents, I was so glad to finally be able to go home and meet my relatives... to know where I was born. I was so happy.”

Vitor shows me photos of him with his relatives in Timor Leste.

He is so proud that he can now call them ‘family’ although he still struggles to remember all their names.

He now lives in a small house in Jakarta with his Timorese aunt and nephews who are studying in the capital.

And he’s determined to help more divided Timorese familes reunite.

“It’s very important for people like us to know who our real families are.  It depends on the person whether they choose to continue living in Indonesia or go back to Timor Leste.  But both countries have to help lost children like me so we can make that decision ourselves.”

Back in Timor Leste, Urbano and Miguel are sure that their missing love one Cipriano is alive... somewhere...

“I have a message for Cipriano. We’ve lived together in Seroja orphanage in Dili. Your father and mother are still alive. You have so many relatives. We’re waiting for you. Every time your parents hear your name, their eyes are filled with tears,” says Urbano.

“We are happy that this message is being broadcast Jakarta so that Cipriano will know that his father and mother are still alive in Timor Leste. We miss him very much. If you have time, please come back to Timor Leste,” Miguel, the father, adds.

Last Updated ( Monday, 16 January 2012 13:21 )  

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