Japanese ambassador visits resilient IDPs in foothills near Dili

News Stories, 14 July 2006

© UNHCR/S.Martins
Japanese Ambassador Kenji Shimizu is welcomed with a traditional scarf as he visits the Timorese village of Moto Kiik in the foothills near Dili.

MOTO KIIK, Timor-Leste, July 14 (UNHCR) Timorese civilians who fled to the foothills just east of Dili over the past two months do not have much in the way of material possessions, but they have plenty of resilience, grace and spirit.

Today, they came out in force in the village of Moto Kiik to welcome the ambassador of Japan, whose government has donated US$2 million to UNHCR's emergency operations in Timor-Leste, part of a broader donation of US$5 million in response to last month's UN Flash Appeal for the troubled republic. The appeal came after tens of thousands of people fled their homes when violence first erupted between rival armed groups in late April.

Twelve elders formed a guard of honour for Ambassador Kenji Shimizu, complete with swords, traditional head-dress and singing. The envoy had joined a UNHCR mission sent to distribute relief items, including blankets and kitchen sets. A group of children and women, also traditionally garbed, joined the procession playing the badadok (small traditional drums) and metal gong.

A traditional weaved scarf was placed around Shimizu's neck before he was led to a small reception area built from wooden poles, palm fronds and UNHCR plastic sheeting where the ceremony commenced with a prayer, watched by some 200 displaced people staying in the area.

Village head Pedro Ribeira welcomed the ambassador and thanked Japan and UNHCR for the plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and kitchen sets which had been distributed to the group in recent weeks. Ribeiro also spoke of his regret that after only four years of independence, the Timorese people have had to again flee their homes and live in such conditions.

"My government has decided to show some friendship to Timorese people by providing some funds," Shimizu said, explaining that the recent US$5 million donation was the largest by donor governments to the UN Flash Appeal. "Some of this assistance comes from UNHCR to this village today, and I hope it will be of some help for easing your hardship and suffering," he added.

Shimizu said his government attached great importance to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region and added that the aid was a gesture of friendship between the two countries. "I do wish your daily life will be normalised and you can enjoy peace and stability as soon as possible," he said.

UNHCR emergency team leader, Vanno Noupech, thanked Japan for its contribution to the agency's operations in Timor-Leste, focusing on the provision of shelter items such as lightweight tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and other relief items for settlements of displaced people in Dili and surrounding districts.

"The Japanese donation contributes to not only the procurement of these relief items but also the logistics and transport, allowing UNHCR to be able to respond quickly to the situation improving people's shelter and thereby mitigating against some of the worst impacts of people's prolonged displacement," Noupech said.

Japan's US$2 million donation represents almost half UNHCR's budget for the operation, which is also supported by Australia, Germany, Norway, the UN's Central Emergency Relief Fund and private donors.

© UNHCR/S.Martins
Village elders form a guard of honour for Ambassador Shimizu in Moto Kiik.

Over the past few weeks, UNHCR has delivered 270 blankets, 320 jerry cans and 320 plastic sheets to families living in the foothills near Moto Kiik, where there is a water point. On Friday, UNHCR trucks flying the UN and Japanese flags delivered 375 blankets and 326 kitchen sets to leaders of the group.

After the reception at Moto Kiik, Ambassador Shimizu helped UNHCR distribute 1,250 blankets in the village of Metinaro, where some 500 displaced families have gathered.

By Ariane Rummery in Dili, 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

2006 Nansen Refugee Award

All photos courtesy of Fuji Optical Co. Ltd.

The UN refugee agency has named Japanese optometrist Dr. Akio Kanai as the winner of the 2006 Nansen Refugee Award. Dr. Kanai has worked for more than two decades to improve the quality of life of over 100,000 uprooted people around the world by testing their eyes and providing them with spectacles.

Dr. Kanai, himself forcibly displaced from the northern Pacific island of Sakhalin at the end of World War Two, started his humanitarian work in 1983 in Thailand with Indochinese refugees. In 1984, he first worked with UNHCR and has conducted more than 24 missions to help uprooted people in Nepal, Thailand, Azerbaijan and Armenia. He has donated optometry equipment and more than 108,200 pairs of spectacles, made cash grants and trained local medical staff.

Dr Kanai, who is the chairman and chief executive officer of Fuji Optical, has also rallied his family and staff to participate in Fuji Optical's Vision Aid missions. Some 70 employees have taken part, working in refugee camps during their holidays.

2006 Nansen Refugee Award

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