Abilio da Conceição

Place of origin: Tibar (near Dili)

‘I belong to the da Conceição family, the traditional rulers (Liurai) in Tibar just west of Dili. We were supporters of the UDT political party. When the fighting between the political parties, UDT and Fretilin, broke out in August 1974, many family members fled across the Indonesian border to Atambua, West Timor. I also ran away to Atambua. However, some members of our extended family stayed in Tibar.

Between 28 August and mid-September 1975, thirty adult members of the extended Conceição family who remained in Turliu village, Tibar, were killed by Fretilin supporters. However, the children were spared, eighteen in all. Five of these children were taken into the care of other extended family members from elsewhere in East Timor. Fretilin placed the remaining 13 children in the orfanato (orphanage in Portuguese) in Dili, the place that would later become the Seroja institution. There Fretilin organised for the care of the children.

When I came back to Dili from Atambua in January 1976, I found my thirteen nieces and nephews living there. There were also other children living there but I don’t know who they were. I began working for the Indonesian Red Cross and each moth I delivered supplies of food for thirty-five children at the institution.

I had a house in Dili, and my nieces and nephews often came to visit me. Then I didn’t see them for some time, so I went looking for them at the Seroja Insitution. Then I found out that some of them had been sent to Java, seven in all. I never received any information from the institution about the transfer of the children. I could not speak Indonesian and was afraid to ask the soldiers about my nieces and nephews. Some of my other relatives living at Seroja ran away from the institution as they were afraid that they also would be sent to Java.

I finally learnt what happened to them in 1984 when they visited East Timor, on the trip that the governor, Mario Carrascalão, organised for the children. Most of them came to stay with me because they did not have any other family members.’

Institutions in Bandung where the children were sent