UNHCR brings relief to both sides in the divided Timor village of Hera

News Stories, 26 June 2006

© UNHCR/N.Ng
A young girl is among the thousands of people who have fled into the hills around the Timor-Leste coastal village of Hera. Many are scared of returning and have asked for the presence of international troops.

HERA, Timor-Leste, June 26 (UNHCR) UNHCR continues to reach out to displaced people outside the Timor-Leste capital Dili, while a new shipment of emergency relief was scheduled to be flown out of Jordan later Monday.

At least 145,000 people have fled their homes since late April during weeks of political turmoil and violence, gathering at camps in the city and the surrounding countryside. UNHCR flew in a first wave of more than 200 tonnes of aid to the displaced people earlier this month.

The unrest has been focused in Dili, but the tensions in the capital are being reflected elsewhere in the small nation. The rivalry between people from the country's east and west partly behind the violence that erupted in Dili late April is apparent in the Hera region, 25 kilometres east of Dili and home to a naval base.

Most of the 980 families (6,800 people) in Hera village are westerners and have fled their homes and taken to the hills in several waves since late April. The smaller group of easterners have moved to the safety of a fenced naval compound, where they have been joined by easterners who fled Dili.

Many of the villagers return to their homes during daylight hours to check on property and animals. Increasingly, they report there are animals missing or dead. Driving southwards into the hills, most of the houses in smaller villages appeared empty.

In recent days, UNHCR has delivered 1,054 plastic sheets, 1,000 blankets and 1,054 jerry cans to Mota Ulun at the base of the hills. The leaders of six hamlets in the area were to decide how the aid will be distributed.

Feisty, articulate Maria Soares is among those given UNHCR aid. Soares and her neighbours fled to the hills on May 21, following sporadic shooting by troops in the area. They made shelters from wood, palm fronds and leaves.

Her husband has since returned to their house to collect a few items, including the UNHCR sheeting they used after the last big outbreak of violence during the 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia. Soares is organising the local women, but her distress is palpable.

Walking into the scrub near Mota Ulun, UNHCR found a number of small family groups living under palm leaf huts. They were not ready to return home. "People are fleeing to places where they feel safe whether that's next to a strong security presence at the airport or port, the walled confines of a Catholic college, the hills they know well from previous struggles," said Vanno Noupech, UNHCR's emergency team leader in Dili.

He added that UNHCR's approach, in coordination with other agencies, was "to deliver assistance, where possible, to people in their makeshift encampments and improve conditions."

Apart from needing better shelter, the people in the hills outside Hera report a shortage of food, medicine and kerosene. But the key issue is security and a group of displaced people asked UNHCR to pass on the message that they wanted foreign troops to come and protect them.

Meanwhile, elected Hera chief Simao Pedro Ribeiro is trying to organise assistance for those sheltering at the naval compound.

"The group has received some food assistance but there are problems with overcrowding and sanitation," said Feliciano da Silva, a teacher. "There is a clinic, but we are low on medicines." UNHCR has delivered 25 tents.

© UNHCR/N.Ng
Displaced Timorese help to set up UNHCR's family tents at Hera, Timor-Leste. Thousands have fled into the hills near the coastal village, which is home to a naval base.

There are currently some 67,000 displaced people in 55 encampments in Dili and a further 78,000 outside the capital. UNHCR continues to alleviate crowded conditions in the settlements around Dili by providing tents, plastic sheets, blankets and jerry cans. UNHCR is also taking part in missions to outer districts.

Meanwhile, a second wave of dispatching UNHCR relief supplies for Timor-Leste was due to get under way on Monday. A chartered DC-10 aircraft carrying 63 tonnes of shelter supplies lightweight tents, plastic sheeting and blankets was scheduled to depart Amman, Jordan late at night bound for Darwin in northern Australia. The emergency supplies will then be taken by ship to Dili.

By Ariane Rummery in Hera, Timor-Leste

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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

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.3: UNHCR's Air and Sea Relief Delivery Operation

Rushing emergency relief supplies to tens of thousands of displaced people in the strife-hit Timor-Leste has been a top priority for the UN refugee agency.

On Monday, the first phase of the air and sea operation ferrying in 200 metric tonnes of tents, blankets, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets, was completed.

Last week four Antonov-12 flights flew in 56 tonnes of supplies, and on Monday 12 June, a freighter crossed the Timor Sea from Darwin, loaded with 150 tonnes of supplies, flown in earlier from UNHCR's regional Middle East stockpiles in Jordan to the northern Australian city. There are now shelter supplies on the ground for some 17,000 people.

Working closely with partners on the ground, UNHCR's emergency team is already improving living conditions at the crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around the capital Dili, and starting to establish planned camps.

Security is still a major concern for the displaced, traumatised by the house burning, looting and violence. UNHCR urgently needs US$4.8 million for its Timor-Leste emergency operation.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.3: UNHCR's Air and Sea Relief Delivery Operation

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