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Making Them Indonesians: Child Transfers out of East Timor

Ch 4 (Vignette). Zacarias Pereira’s story1

I was born in November 1986. My mother died in 1996 when I was in the third class of the elementary school in Tibar [just west of Dili]. One of the teachers at the school was Mr Budiato from Indonesia who began teaching at the school in the early 1990s. Because we were poor, Mr Budiato invited me to live with his family, doing jobs for them and helping to mind his young daughter. In exchange he paid my school fees.

As the time for the referendum in 1999 approached Mrs Budiato was afraid, so Mr Budiato took her back to their home in Magelang in Java. I helped them carry their belongings to the harbor in Dili. Then Mr Budiato returned to Tibar. Not long afterwards he said that if I wanted to be safe I should go with him to Java to go to school. He said that I could continue living with his family and they would help me with school fees. He told me that when it was safe in East Timor I could return home.

About three weeks before the referendum was due to take place he took me to Dili. The day before the boat to Java was due to depart I went with Mr Budiato to look for someone; he didn’t say who he was looking for but we did not find them. Then we went together to the home of an East Timorese woman who had three children. I didn’t hear what Mr Budiato said to her. The following day Mr Budiato took me to the harbor. There we met up with the woman and the three children; two of the children were a brother and sister from Ermera, a bit older than me. Mr Budiato gave me Rp200,000 saying it was to buy books and shoes. Then he left me, promising that he would return before the boat left to give me the address and telephone number of his wife in Magelang. He told me that when I arrived I should contact her and she would arrange to meet me. However, he never came back and since that time I have never had any contact with him. I travelled to Java with that woman and the group of children. I was confused and didn’t know what else I should do; I was only twelve years old.

When the boat arrived in Jakarta, Hasan Basri met us. I discovered that the people I had travelled with were all his relatives. I think Mr Budiato had organised beforehand for me to go with Hasan Basri. But he never told me that before I left Dili. Hasan Basri took us to Bandung where we stayed for one week in his house – there were about twenty children altogether. Many of them were related to Hasan Basri; some of them were quite small and their parents were still in East Timor.

A Javanese religious man, a Haji, visited us and Hasan Basri asked him to help find places for us in an Islamic boarding school, pesantren. Some of the children were sent to Bogor and Tasikmalaya, as well as other places I can’t remember. The Haji took me and Nur Hikmah, one of the two children from Ermera who travelled with us on the boat, to Majalengkah, near Cirebon in West Java. Her brother Manuel (Abdul Rahman) was sent to Tasikmalaya. He cried because he couldn’t be with his sister, but the Haji said it was better if we didn’t all stay together otherwise we would influence each other. I think Hasan Basri thought that we might run away together. At the time I thought that I was being taken to Mr Budiato’s home, because I thought that Majalengkah was the same as Magelang. I was very disappointed.

In Majalengkah I started studying at the junior high school and was there for three years, from 1999 to 2002. I lived with the teacher who taught Islamic religion (ustad) in his house behind the pesantren. Nur lived in the house of another religious teacher. I helped in the house and I was able to go to school.

The pesantren was run by Persatuan Islam (Persis). We studied a lot about Islamic religion and I became a Muslim. I was happy with the study and I wanted to become a Muslim. Before I went to Java I had not been baptized. When I lived with Mr Budiato he often went to the mosque in Komoro. Once I went with him, but I waited outside.

While I was in Majalengkah I had no information about my family. I saw on the television that East Timor became independent, in 2002. I felt sad because now I couldn’t go home and I didn’t know how it was with my father and my family. The ustad told me not to be sad. He said that when I had completed my study I could go back to East Timor. They never said anything else about East Timor or about my parents. Nur was also sad and wanted to know about her parents.

I had never talked with Hasan Basri about Mr Budiato. So after the first year in Java during the long vacation I went to Hasan Basri’s house, but he had already moved. The following year during the vacation once again I tried to find him. This time I had heard that he lived in Sumedang, near Bandung. But when I asked him about Mr Budianto he said he didn’t know him. During my third year in Majalengkah, in 2002, once again I returned to Sumedang.2 There were about ten other East Timorese children who lived in various pesantren around Bandung who also had gathered at Basri’s house. By chance I met a foreign journalist at Basri’s place who said he would take a letter from me to my father in East Timor. That is how my father found out where I was. During that vacation I also met with staff from the UNHCR who told me that my father was searching for me and had asked help from the UNHCR to find me. They told me that my father was going to come to pick me up and take me home. But I did not believe that my father would come there.

Just in case I decided to go back to Majalengkah and collect my belongings and returned to Sumedang. I began attending the pesantren in Sumedang. Nur also returned to Sumedang. After three months, in October 2002, my father came with the UNHCR to collect me. With the UNHCR staff was a policeman and staff from the social welfare department.

Hasan Basri gathered together all the East Timorese children staying with him to meet with the UNHCR staff. Before the meeting he said to me, ‘Even if your father comes to meet you, you should stay here and not go back to East Timor. It’s better to complete your study first’. But he did not forbid me to go home with my father.

At the meeting Hasan Basri asked us, ‘Who wants to return to East Timor?’ Another mother had come with my father to collect her three children. The only ones who raised their hands were me and one of her three children, Syamsuddin Abe. This woman, Domingas, was the older sister of Hasan Basri’s wife. No other children dared to raise their hands, but I think that if their parents had come to collect them they would have wanted to go back home. As the UNHCR vehicle was leaving, one of the other children, Abe from Ossu, ran down the road taking a shortcut leading out of the complex. He hid along the side of the road until the UNHCR car passed then stopped it and asked be taken home. At that time he was not attending school, just helping in the gardens. So there were three of us who went home.

When I got back to Dili the UNHCR helped me so that I could begin school at the 30 August Junior High School in Comoro. But I was not happy there because I wanted to go to a school with Islamic teaching. So I moved to the An-Nur Junior High School run by the An-Nur mosque.’


Zacarias, left, and Johnny at the institution run by Hasan Basri, Sumedang, Bandung, 2002
© David O’Shea, Dateline, SBS television (Australia)


1 Interview, Dili, 5 May 2004.

2 Hasan Basri established his own pesantren in Sumedang.

Cite this chapter as: van Klinken, Helene. 2011. Chapter 4: 'Vignette. Zacarias Pereira's story'. In Making Them Indonesians: Child Transfers out of East Timor. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing. Pp. 139-142.

Making Them Indonesians: Child Transfers out of East Timor

   by Helene van Klinken