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Horta, Jos Ramos

Prominent Refugees, 26 December 1949

José Ramos Horta

José Ramos Horta

José Ramos Horta fought for the self-determination of East Timor in his youth and throughout many years of exile before becoming Foreign Minister of the newly-independent state. He won the Nobel Prize in 1996 for his work towards a just and peaceful solution to the problem of the former Portuguese colony.

East Timor makes up half of the divided island of Timor, the other half belonging to Indonesia. Ramos Horta was born in Dili, the son of a Timorese mother and a Portuguese father who had been exiled to East Timor by the Salazar dictatorship. Ramos Horta worked as a radio and television journalist from 1969 to 1974, during which time the Portuguese authorities sent him to Mozambique for two years (1970-71) as a punishment for his involvement in politics.

As Timorese nationalism emerged, Ramos Horta was seen as a voice of moderation. He was a co-founder of FRETILIN, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor. In 1974, as the Portuguese withdrew, he was appointed Minister for External Affairs and Information in the first transitional government of the Democratic Republic of East Timor. In December 1975, while Ramos Horta was travelling abroad, Indonesia invaded and annexed the territory. Ramos Horta was to spend the next 23 years of his life in exile denouncing the annexation and defending the right of the people of East Timor to self-determination.

Arriving in New York at the age of 25, he found an apartment in the Bronx and would regularly walk down to the UN building in an attempt to keep the issue of East Timor on the agenda. He was also the personal representative of the jailed freedom fighter, Xanana Gusmão. Ramos Horta formulated a three-phase peace plan that became the template for UN negotiations with Indonesia.

He has been the leading international spokesman for the East Timorese cause. In 1996 he was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with his fellow countryman, Bishop Carlos Belo.

Following a UN supervised referendum in 1999, East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence. However, heavy fighting broke out as militia backed by Jakarta tried to force the East Timorese to become part of Indonesia. International peacekeepers stepped in and the United Nations formed a transitional government (UNTAET) to stabilise the country. In May 2002, East Timor became an independent country (Timor-Leste) headed by Gusmão, with Ramos Horta as Foreign Minister.

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UNHCR country pages

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

In mid-June UNHCR extended its emergency relief operation in Timor-Leste to include tens of thousands of people who fled violence in the capital Dili for districts in the countryside. An estimated 79,000 displaced people are in outlying districts with some 72,000 displaced in Dili.

The UN refugee agency has delivered shelter materials and emergency supplies to easterners and westerners in Hera village, 25 kilometres to the east of Dili. Most of the inhabitants of Hera are westerners and have fled their homes and taken to the hills. A smaller group of easterners have moved to the safety of a fenced naval compound, where they have been joined by easterners who fled Dili. UNHCR has also delivered shelter materials to Metinaro, 40 minutes outside of Dili, as well as to Auturo Island.

Despite sporadic violence, UNHCR continues to help the displaced who say they are still too scared to return to their homes and will wait in temporary shelters until the crisis ends.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

June 2006

Recent violence in Timor-Leste has displaced about 100,000 people, with 65,000 sheltering in 40 squalid encampments in the capital, Dili, and a further 35,000 taking refuge in the countryside. A UNHCR assessment team visited the makeshift camps in Dili end May and reported the most critical humanitarian needs, aside from security, were food, clean water and shelter.

In a phased response to the crisis and as part of a joint UN effort, UNHCR deployed an emergency team to reinforce staff on the ground and is now airlifting in urgently needed supplies for some 30,000 displaced. The first flight, which arrived in Dili on June 5, brought 14 tonnes of lightweight family tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans from UNHCR stockpiles in Jordan.

UNHCR and its partners will use these items to establish new, planned camps for the displaced, where they can live in better conditions and assistance will be easier to deliver, until the security situation improves and they can return to their homes.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps

With the first wave of UNHCR's air and sea operation to rush relief supplies to Timor-Leste completed, the focus is now on improving the living conditions of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around Dili.

Many of the 69,000 displaced in Dili have told UNHCR they prefer to stay near the makeshift sites where they feel safe. In response, UNHCR has begun searching for additional sites around these areas to clear ground, pitch tents and decongest the existing makeshift shelters. Not all makeshift sites are suitable for expansion, so UNHCR is moving ahead with the establishment and planning of new sites.

UNHCR has sent an assessment team to the countryside where some 78,000 Timorese have sought refuge. Many displaced are staying with relatives, while others are sheltering in huts, offices, church building and spontaneous camp sites. We are now delivering assistance to some of these people.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural GatheringPlay video

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural Gathering

People from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and from Western Sahara Territory meet for a cultural seminar in the Azores Islands as part of a confidence building measures programme.
Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural GatheringPlay video

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural Gathering

As part of a confidence-building programme, the UN refugee agency helps organize a meeting in Portugal's Azores Islands on the culture of the divided Sahrawi people.