UNHCR reaches out to help displaced people outside Dili

UNHCR has stepped up its emergency relief operation in troubled Timor-Leste and is reaching out to people who fled the capital to escape violence. Official estimates show that there are 78,000 people displaced outside Dili after fleeing the capital, compared to 69,000 still in camps within the capital.

A woman sits outside her makeshift shelter at Metinaro camp east of the Timor-Leste capital, Dili. UNHCR, which has begun helping some of the estimated 78,000 people dislaced outside Dili, delivered 200 tents to Metinaro.   © UNHCR/Ariane Rummery

METINARO, Timor-Leste, June 15 (UNHCR) - UNHCR has stepped up its emergency relief operation in troubled Timor-Leste and started reaching out to people who fled the capital to escape violence sparked in late April.

The refugee agency has delivered 200 tents to families camping in makeshift shelters of palms, leaves and tarpaulins near a Timorese army base at Metinaro - about 40 minutes drive east of Dili through the lush green countryside of Timor-Leste. About half have been pitched by the residents in three separate areas.

UNHCR's delivery of emergency aid to regional areas begins as official estimates indicate that there are more displaced people outside the capital - 78,000 - than those at camps inside Dili. Some 69,000 people are displaced in the capital.

A volunteer organiser at Metinaro camp said she had registered 356 families and was on Thursday preparing for the most vulnerable to move into the special lightweight shelters. The woman, who gave her name as Theresa, fled Dili when violence spread to her neighbourhood about three weeks ago.

"These people are originally from the east but they have lived in Dili for 10 years or more," Theresa explained. "They are from Baucau, Vikeke and Los Palos. But they don't have a house anymore in these places and so they have fled Dili to here." She added that they would return to Dili "when the situation is normal."

Most people fleeing looting and arson attacks are moving to places where they feel some connection, or where they feel safe. The Metinaro group left Dili when their houses were targeted by people originally from the west of the country. Unable to travel to their villages of origin in the east, they set up camp near an army base manned by soldiers from the east. The unrest was partly sparked by tension between rival armed groups from the east and west.

"We came here because it is near to the army base," said Santiago Ximenes, who arrived about one month ago and is helping to put up tents. "People stay because the army is here," he added.

Before receiving the UNHCR tents, the group at Metinaro had received some food assistance and mosquito netting. But there is still an urgent need for more food and more latrines.

As well as providing tents and non-food items like blankets, UNHCR is liaising with agencies that specialise in water and sanitation so that they can provide latrines at the camp.

The delivery of tents to Metinaro followed a rapid needs assessment launched last week by UNHCR staff in a number of districts outside the capital. Further distribution of tents, blankets, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets to other districts is expected to begin in the coming days.

By Ariane Rummery in Metinaro, Timor-Leste