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