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Authorized Yet Unrecognized: The Youths' Limited Access

Although the political status of East Timorese in Indonesia has not been legally regulated,[1] almost all inhabitants who are older than 17 can register and get an Indonesian Citizen Identity Card (KTP). Being citizen, however, is more than just having a KTP; it also is being accepted in the society at large and playing roles as part of the community. The social element is crucial because of the fact that citizenship is a public institution that requires personal enthusiasm and institutions (Van Gunsteren 1998). In reality, East Timorese youths still have encountered harsh exclusion and face difficulties accessing basic rights in the past 15 years. The precarious condition of East Timorese youths in Naibonat is discussed in this section.

Access to education is the first problem that is always mentioned during interviews. Despite a program of 12 years of free education in a public school in Indonesia, dropout rates are still high among East Timorese children. Although public schools do not charge tuition fees, students still need money for transportation, books, uniforms, shoes, and occasional dues. As a result, families with more than two children must allocate resources wisely. Usually, the older children must abandon their education after finishing elementary or middle school so that their younger siblings can have access to schooling. Thus, many youths cannot access high school or university despite expressing their wish to continue their education.

According to the 2012 official Naibonat profile, 2487 citizens finished elementary school, 1192 finished junior high school, and 1595 finished high school (Government of Kupang Regency 2012). Low levels of parental education influence children’s dropout rates because these parents do not think that education is very important, so they do not send their children to school. Still, there are youths who can continue to university either supported by parents or scholarships from the Indonesian Army. In Naibonat, 222 residents graduated from university, 25 finished their master’s degree, and 2 individuals completed their doctoral degree (Government of Kupang Regency 2012). Given that those who continue their education can see other parts of the city or even the country, this motivates other youths to go on to higher education. Some of them expressed that they want to go to university in Kupang, Bali, or Java in order to get “some experience.”

An aspiration to continue their educational degree cannot be separated from the hope of youths to get a promising job opportunity in the future. The dream jobs are commonly that of a teacher, nurse, state official, soldier, police officer, sailor, and entrepreneur. Many want to pursue careers in security or the military, because they have learned from the surrounding residents who are military members. Like other aspirations of exrefugee youths, East Timorese youths want to pursue higher education, not necessarily because it will guarantee a future job, but merely for the fact that formal education is closely related to class alteration and power relations (Clark-Kazak 2012). They believe that by entering a university, they will become prominent in broader society because of the knowledge they will have, resulting in the respect of the community.

Nevertheless, most of their dream jobs are often considered out of reach because of their low educational background. In this case, they must deal with real conditions in their daily lives such as helping their parents to cultivate rice field and taking care of domestic chores. For the young men who have motorcycles, they offer ojek (i.e., motorcycle taxi service) around camps to provide financial aid to their parents. The young women, in another case, help their mothers by baking rice cakes and selling them in the area. Aside from that, youths try their fortune outside the region such as by working on plantations in Kalimantan or Sulawesi, by becoming ship crew members for fishing companies in Bali, by working as casual laborers in the construction sector, or by being shopkeepers in Kupang or other nearby cities. Many are working as migrant workers in Malaysia or Saudi Arabia. Although some always try to send money back home, exploitation by employers sometimes makes it difficult to do so.

Youths or teenagers whose families have connections with local bureaucrats in high positions may have a better chance in getting a job. In this case, they can start as a security officer or an office assistance in public offices or departments in Naibonat. Until this research ended, however, I found that none of them had been appointed as an official civil servant (PNS). The East Timorese’s link is often used by people inside the camp as leverage in the new place. For example, several youths work in Aguamor Timorindo, a mineral water company in Kupang owned by the East Timorese elite.

Given these uncertain situations, many youths have expressed their intentions to “go back” to Timor Leste for a job if they cannot find one in Indonesia. They have heard that Timor Leste is still developing to be a more promising state and therefore it keeps employing a lot of people in human resources. Safety, however, remains a significant factor because they have to make sure that someone will guarantee them a secure job. This option reflects the fact that many youths are developing weak ties to the labor market, which will “weaken the loyalty and sense of reciprocity between these future adults and the state” (Roulleau-Berger 2002 in Sassen 2003). Poor conditions and limited opportunities in Naibonat do not motivate the youths to strengthen their bonds with Indonesia. Instead, they are exploring opportunities to go back to Timor Leste.

  • [1] People’s Consultative Assembly Decree or Tap MPR No. 5/1999 about the East Timor referendum stated that the rights of the East Timorese have to be fulfilled by the Indonesian government,but it has not been implemented nation.
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