Timor-Leste: First phase of emergency relief operation completed

Briefing Notes, 13 June 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 June 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yesterday, the first phase of UNHCR's emergency air and sea operation to rush relief supplies to Timor-Leste was completed with the arrival in the capital Dili of a container ship ferrying 150 tonnes of supplies across the Timor Sea from Darwin in northern Australia. Last week, four Antonov-12 flights delivered 56 tonnes of supplies. Monday's sea delivery of emergency supplies, including lightweight family tents, plastic sheets, blankets and kitchen sets, was the single largest shipment of relief supplies to the strife-hit island nation since the unrest started.

As part of the UN Flash Appeal announced yesterday in New York, UNHCR has asked for $4.8 million to fund its shelter-focused emergency response to the Timor-Leste crisis.

In total, UNHCR has so far sent over 200 tonnes of supplies for more than 17,000 people. Last week two jumbo B-747 flights delivered the bulk of the cargo from our regional Middle East stockpiles in Jordan to Darwin. The supplies were then transported in smaller planes to Dili and by freighter. The shelter supplies are being used to improve the living conditions of thousands of displaced people living in 55 crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around Dili and in the districts.

Many of the 69,000 displaced people in Dili have told us they prefer to stay near the makeshift sites where they have found security and feel safe. Responding to this, UNHCR is trying to find additional space around these sites to clear ground, pitch tents and decongest the existing makeshift shelters. At the so-called Airport site, some 150 tents are already pitched and we are exploring the feasibility of clearing additional land. It is expected the area could shelter around 2,000 people. About 1,000 people are expected to move into tents at the site today. The most vulnerable are being moved first. Australian troops are providing security at the airport area, including the IDP [internally diplaced persons] camp, and will conduct regular patrols at night. Security is the main preoccupation of the displaced.

Not all makeshift sites are suitable for expansion, however, so we are also continuing to move ahead with the establishment and planning of new sites. On Yesterday (Monday), we started pitching tents to shelter over 1,000 people at the National Stadium where the government asked us to establish a camp. This work is expected to finish tomorrow (Wednesday).

The distribution of emergency supplies to various sites housing displaced people around Dili is already well under way and we are working closely with NGOs to reach as many people in need as possible. Tomorrow (Wednesday), as part of the joint UN/NGO response, we are sending relief items to Auturo Island, just offshore from Dili (100 tents, 500 blankets and 100 plastic sheets).

More than 63,000 people fleeing the looting, house burning and violence in Dili have sought refuge in the countryside. That figure is expected to rise as assessments are finalised in the remaining districts. So far nine of the 13 districts have been assessed. Many displaced are staying with relatives, while others are sheltering in huts, offices and church buildings. In some parts of the Bacau district, people have set up makeshift camps. We are liaising with the local authorities, local Red Cross and NGOs on emergency needs and distributions to the districts are expected to start shortly.