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UNHCR hands relief items to Timor-Leste, expresses concern about security situation

News Stories, 1 September 2006

© UNHCR/N.Ng
UNHCR on Friday handed over emergency relief items to the Timor-Leste government, including 1,500 family tents.

DILI, Timor-Leste, September 1 (UNHCR) UNHCR on Friday handed over large quantities of tents, plastic sheeting and other relief items to the government of Timor-Leste to help families whose houses were destroyed during violence earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the refugee agency expressed concern about fresh friction in the fledgling nation, which was ravaged by clashes between rival groups for several weeks from late April. At the time, tens of thousands fled their homes in Dili to escape the violence.

"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," chief spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

"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," Redmond added.

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," Redmond said.

Earlier Friday in Dili, the handover of 1,500 tents, 1,000 plastic sheets and 1,126 kerosene stoves took place at a ceremony attended by UNHCR, Minister of Labour and Community Reinsertion Arsenio Bano, and representatives of Japan and the European Commission, who both funded the supplies.

The relief items will support the government-led Simu Malu (Mutual Acceptance) programme and other initiatives for the safe return and sustainable reintegration of displaced Timorese people.

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, the key factor in whether people will leave their temporary displacement sites remains security.

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 significant. According to 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.

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 coming wet season. UNHCR will also continue to provide shelter assistance, when requested, to those institutions hosting displaced people in their grounds and buildings 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 its surrounds.

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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

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

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