Timor-bound supplies land in Darwin, Dili displaced still gripped by fear

A jumbo jet arrived in Darwin, northern Australia on Wednesday with some 115 tonnes of UNHCR emergency relief for Timor-Leste. In Dili, many displaced people are still too scared to return to their homes, despite the presence of foreign troops sent to restore order.

UNHCR emergency relief supplies are unloaded from a Boeing-747 at Darwin in northern Australia, Wednesday. The aid will be ferried by aircraft and boat to Timor-Leste to help displaced people in and around strife-hit Dili.   © UNHCR/M.Napper

DILI, Timor-Leste, June 7 (UNHCR) - A Boeing 747 bearing fresh UNHCR aid for victims of the recent unrest in Timor-Leste landed in the northern Australian city of Darwin on Wednesday morning. In Dili, many of the tens of thousands who fled fighting, arson and looting in the capital are too scared and traumatised to return home.

A second jumbo jet, also carrying about 115 tonnes of emergency relief supplies, is expected to arrive in Darwin on Thursday. A first UNHCR aid flight landed in Dili on Monday. The latest aid will be ferried from Darwin to Dili by air and by sea. An Antonov-12 is scheduled to make two flights on Thursday and one more on Friday, providing enough immediate aid for 5,000 people. The remaining supplies are expected to arrive in Dili by sea early next week.

About 13,000 displaced persons in need of this aid are housed at the Don Bosco College in Dili's Comoro district, and many do not dare return home despite the arrival of Australian, Malaysian and other foreign troops to restore and maintain peace.

Take Luizinha Pereira Carvalha. Her house near Dili airport was vandalised just over a week ago and she is too scared to return - even in daylight hours when many of Dili's displaced have begun to visit their homes or move about the city.

Carvalha spends her days caring for her four children, finding firewood and washing clothes. The Carvalhas are one of 98 families living in a shaded and airy gym on the college grounds, but there is no privacy and people use string to demarcate their own space. About 30 children crowd around Luizinha Carvalha's space, watching the television she salvaged before fleeing her home.

Carvalha said she would only go back when she feels there is adequate security in place, and she believed this was only possible with the help of foreign troops and following a political solution. "Our leaders in government need to go hand-in-hand to settle this problem, so we can return to our homes," she said.

Father Thomas Alves, a priest at the college, said people were still afraid and confused despite the presence of the international military force. "People have been here now for more than one month, but few leaders have come to see their suffering," he said. "Even with a peace-keeping force on the ground, there is no guarantee of security.... We don't know when people can go home."

An estimated 100,000 people are displaced in Timor-Leste. About 65,000 are living in some 40 encampments in Dili, while a further 35,000 have fled to the countryside. Don Bosco College has become Dili's largest site for the displaced.

The college's headmaster, Brother Adriano M. de Jesus, said 1,847 families comprising more than 13,200 people had been registered at the site since April 28. He said that while people generally felt safe, the arrival of 30 Malaysian troops to guard Don Bosco College on Tuesday was welcomed.

The Don Bosco College authorities have established seven voluntary groups among the residents to carry out registration and food distribution. Another group of 150 people, representatives of villages and family groups, deal with security issues and help prevent conflict within the camp.

Modesto da Costa, 25, said about half of those in the camp came from the west of the country and half from the east. Tension between people of the two regions is largely blamed for the violence that first erupted in late April. But da Costa said the volunteers did not discriminate, adding: "Here we all work together and we help everyone."

Around 115 tonnes of UNHCR emergency relief supplies including tents, plastic sheeting and jerry cans, about to be unloaded from a UNHCR-chartered cargo plane in the northern Australian city of Darwin on Wednesday. The aid will be ferried by aircraft and boat to Timor-Leste.  © UNHCR/M.Napper

Father Adriano and his colleagues have also established programmes and services to ease life for their charges, including a medical clinic, cash-for-work programmes and a school. A soccer competition is planned to coincide with this month's World Cup.

But the camp is overcrowded and there are concerns about water, sanitation and fuel for cooking. UNHCR site planners and protection staff visited Don Bosco on Wednesday to see how the refugee agency can help alleviate the problems. They are considering the feasibility of setting up additional shelters within the college grounds to ease congestion.

By Ariane Rummery in Dili, Timor-Leste