Blankets bring respite to those staying in hills near Dili

News Stories, 4 July 2006

© UNHCR/A.Rummery
Displaced Timorese Moniz Alves, 81, will be a bit warmer with blankets donated by UNHCR. He is sheltering in a village east of Dili, still too scared to return home.

MOTO KIIK, Timor-Leste, July 5 (UNHCR) Moniz Alves will be a bit warmer tonight after receiving a blanket from UNHCR at a makeshift camp near this village in foothills east of the Timor-Leste capital Dili, but the 81-year-old is still too scared to return home.

While members of the UNHCR emergency response team find the nights pleasantly warm after the heat of the day, locals say it is chilly after darkness falls. July is the coldest month of the year in Timor-Leste, and the mercury drops even further in the higher ground.

While Alves feels safer in the hills during the current unrest, he said it can be a bit cold at night especially with winds coming in from the coast. "I will use this blanket to help keep warm at night," said Alves, who spent three months in the hills during the violence that marred Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999.

He fled his home in the nearby seaside village of Hera two months ago, and is one of more than 300 families living in or beside a dry river bed near Moto Kiik.

Many came down from the mountains a week ago to set up camp nearer to the village where there is a reliable water supply after UNHCR delivered plastic sheeting and jerry cans. They have rigged shelters by mounting plastic sheets over wooden poles, some reinforced with palm leaves.

UNHCR on Tuesday delivered an initial consignment of 270 blankets for children and the elderly here. This will be topped up later this week with the arrival of more aid from UNHCR stockpiles. A container ship carrying tents, plastic sheeting and 15,000 blankets is due to arrive in Dili from Australia in the coming days.

Despite the relative calm in Dili and surrounding areas since the latest wave of protests ended last Thursday, the displaced people are reluctant to return home. The violence between rival armed groups first flared in late April, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee to camps in and around Dili.

A camp community leader known as Marcos said his house was badly damaged in the unrest after it spread from Dili to Hera. "Only a strong signal from the nation's leaders that all is now calm and the crisis is over will persuade people, camping in the hills for some two months now, that it is safe to return to their homes and get on with their lives," said Marcos, who was helping distribute blankets.

UNHCR team leader Vanno Noupech said a strong police presence would be needed in neighbourhoods and villages before people felt safe enough to return home. He welcomed the recent arrival of 250 Malaysian police officers. "We now have just over 500 international police officers in Timor-Leste and look forward to the improved security in the bairros [neighbourhoods]," he said.

Elsewhere in Timor-Leste, UNHCR continued its relief operations, distributing shelter and relief items, and providing planning advice to various camps around Dili. UNHCR has distributed 2,045 tents, 3,284 plastic sheets, 17,490 blankets, 1,694 jerry cans, 191 stoves and 298 kitchen sets.

By Ariane Rummery in Dili, Timor-Leste