Al-Bana Conceição

Muslim students in Jakarta after 1999

Al-Bana Conceição [1]

‘I am the leader of Kormantim (Timorese Islamic Students Coordinator), an organisation for East Timorese Muslims which was established in Jakarta by Abdul Malik Soares in 1995.

Before 1999

Yakin Foundation organised pre-tertiary education for East Timorese Muslim students. Beyond that it was often difficult for us to get support to continue our education. Many of the available scholarships for post-secondary education to study in Indonesia or elsewhere were given to East Timorese Muslims of Arab descent. Our organisation Kormantim tried to help East Timorese students in Jakarta to get scholarships.

In 1996 Amien Rais promised Abdul Malik Soares 100 places in Muhammadiyah institutions for East Timorese students over 10 years. At the time Amien Rais was a prominent Indonesian politician and leader of Muhammadiyah, one of the two largest Muslim organisations in Indonesia.

In 1997 an Islamic social welfare organisation, Yayasan Amanah Ummat, gave us dormitory accommodation, asrama, to use. Before that we used to rent rooms, kos,  in the area surrounding the Muhammadiyah University of Indonesia, but then we were able to live together in the asrama. It had 13 rooms and 25 students used to live there. Yayasan Amanah Ummat gave us some money for a communal kitchen where we cooked and ate together.

After the referendum

I don’t know the number of East Timorese children who still live and study in the greater Jakarta area. Yakin sent them but no records were ever kept. When the children arrived in Jakarta they were given into the care of the organizers of child care institutions (panti asuhan) and pesantren. To find out about them is also difficult because many took on Islamic names. A lot went back to East Timor without telling the organisation or the people who brought them here. Others have married and live in Jakarta but do not communicate with us in Kormantim.

There are some younger children who live in the pesantren close by and their fees and accommodation are taken care of by the pesantren. They come mostly from West Timor, brought by an older sibling or by parents. We heard that the parents of some of the children are already back in East Timor, but there is no pressure for students to stay on here. One student (Igidio) was sent by Yakin when he was only in first grade and now does not remember where he comes from. The others know where their families come from though some don’t have much contact.

After the referendum we were forced to leave the dormitories and the money we received for food stopped. When we discussed this problem with Yayasan Amanah Ummat the organisers accused us of supporting East Timor against Indonesia. It is true that we supported independence for East Timor. Many of the students lost their scholarships. It is now much harder to get support and new scholarships.

When we have finished our study in Indonesia most of us want to go back to East Timor. We haven’t taken out East Timorese citizenship, although some don’t even have an Indonesian identity card. But we are worried about how we will be treated in East Timor because we are Muslims.’

1. Interview 2004, Ciputat, South Jakarta.  Al-Bana Conceição was a masters student in philosophy at University of Indonesia.