The new Timor-Leste government of Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak appears determined to tackle one of the Catholic nation’s perennial problems, youth unemployment, which has led to a disturbing street gang culture and significant worker migration to Europe, South Korea, Australia and elsewhere.
Part of the government program, passed by parliament in July, is a promise to create 60,000 new jobs for the country of just 1.2 million people.
Since Timor-Leste gained its independence in 2002, the biggest underlying problem has been unemployment, which has resulted in a flood of young people heading abroad for jobs. Every morning many Timorese youngsters line up near the Portuguese embassy in Dili to process their Portuguese passports so that they can travel to Europe for work.
More than 20,000 Timorese are now working in Northern Ireland and England. Thousands have headed to South Korea and others to Australia. Every week, they wire money back to their families, a situation not uncommon in Southeast Asia’s poorer nations such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and Laos, which have millions of citizens working abroad both in the region and particularly the Middle East.
The Timor-Leste population continues to grow at about 2.2 per cent annually compared to 1.28 per cent in Indonesia. Its population pyramid shows a “youth bulge” in the 5-15 age group, which means that more than 300,000 people will join the working age population over the next 10 years.