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Timor-Leste: As violence escalates in Dili, UNHCR hands over relief items for rebuilding

Briefing Notes, 1 September 2006

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 1 September 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today in Dili, UNHCR handed over 1,500 family-sized tents, plastic sheeting and other relief items to the government of Timor-Leste to help families whose houses have been destroyed in the recent violence return to their homes and rebuild. While exact figures are yet to be finalised, it is estimated some 1,500 homes in Dili have been destroyed or significantly damaged by arson or malicious damage during the recent unrest that began in April 2006.

The plastic sheets will help make some damaged houses habitable while repairs are carried out, and tents can be used as temporary shelter while families rebuild. While these items will go some way toward addressing some practical issues in facilitating return, the key factor in whether people will leave their temporary displacement sites remains security.

On this issue, UNHCR is very concerned at the recent escalation of violence in Dili in and around some displacement sites themselves, as well as within communities. We are also seeing the increasing polarisation of communities.

Burning and stoning of houses in the capital has increased in recent days, as the city has returned to a higher level of violence. There appear to be attempts by some elements to polarise communities according to their place of origin ("westerners" and "easterners").

According to UNHCR protection staff, in some camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), people live in fear of attacks and intimidation, and some of those who have returned to their homes are also fearful of nighttime attacks. There is a clear need for an ongoing strong and robust international security presence until national institutions can be rebuilt.

While a number of IDPs have returned to their homes in the past weeks, there has been no large-scale movement back home and the displaced population remains large. According to current official estimates, some 67,900 IDPs remain at various sites in Dili, including church grounds, public buildings and camps. Another 78,000 people outside of Dili are residing primarily with host families.

Today's handover of 1,500 tents, 1,000 plastic sheets and 1,126 kerosene stoves took place at a ceremony in Dili attended by UNHCR, the Minister of Labour and Community Reinsertion, and representatives of Japan and the European Commission. The UNHCR supplies were funded by ECHO (European Community Humanitarian Aid department) and the Japanese government and support the government-led Simu Malu (Mutual Acceptance) programme and other initiatives for the safe return and sustainable reintegration of displaced Timorese people. The provision of tents, plastic and stoves also ties in with a programme under way by the government and UNDP to register destroyed or significantly damaged houses.

The latest handover of relief supplies also marks an important shift in focus of UNHCR's emergency response to the Timor-Leste crisis, from providing emergency shelter and improving living conditions for displaced people to protection and reconciliation activities. At the same time, UNHCR troubleshooting mobile teams will continue to provide technical support to the various IDP sites around Dili, with a particular focus on planning for the upcoming wet season. UNHCR will also continue to provide shelter assistance, when requested, to those institutions hosting displaced people in their grounds and buildings such as schools, colleges and government offices, so that normal operations can resume.

In early June, UNHCR launched an emergency airlift to provide shelter and other relief supplies (including tents, plastic sheets, blankets, jerry cans, and stoves) and set to work improving conditions in some of the most congested makeshift encampments in Dili and surrounds. To date, more than 2,600 tents have been pitched at various locations in and around Dili. UNHCR has also distributed more than 3,600 jerry cans, 3,500 kitchen sets, 274 stoves, 32,750 blankets, and more than 4,900 plastic sheets since early June.

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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