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UNHCR winds up West Timor operation

Briefing Notes, 16 December 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 December 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is scheduled to finish its humanitarian operations in West Timor, Indonesia, on December 31, ending six years of work in the region. The focus of our efforts there was finding long-term solutions for refugees who fled to West Timor from East Timor to escape the violence that followed the August 1999 referendum on independence for East Timor. That work has now been completed.

UNHCR has helped the voluntary repatriation of 225,000 refugees, the majority of whom returned in organised convoys to the now independent Timor-Leste. We also assisted with the local integration of some 28,000 people who chose to confirm their Indonesian citizenship and remain in West Timor.

During the violence in 1999, an estimated quarter of a million people fled East Timor. A similar number were internally displaced and sought refuge in the forests and mountains of East Timor. During the initial phase of displacement, UNHCR provided emergency assistance in the form of shelter and other relief items.

UNHCR's operations in West Timor will always be remembered by us for the shocking and brutal killings of three of our staff members during riots in Atambua, in Belu District, on 6 September 2000. As a result, we halted our operations and evacuated all staff from West Timor.

Working closely with Indonesian security authorities, as well as with the provincial and district governments in West Timor, UNHCR gradually resumed its operations in early 2002 to find solutions for East Timorese remaining in camps in West Timor, with financial support from the European Union. This work included building communities through construction of nearly 1,000 houses at different locations around West Timor, as well as a small number on the neighbouring island of Sumba. Infrastructure work was also done involving schools, water and sanitation projects, roads, community buildings and health posts.

One challenging issue resolved in late 2004 was the situation of some 4,500 East Timorese children who had become separated from their families during the events of 1999. Most of them were reunited with their parents, while some continued their stay with care-givers mostly in Indonesia for educational reasons but with the agreement of their parents.

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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