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.