Timor: mass info campaign working
In West Timor's provincial capital of Kupang, a large number of Timorese are leaving the camps and registering to repatriate. The higher numbers from Kupang camps are encouraging since as late as three weeks ago UNHCR had been moving people out of these sites a few people at a time. Refugees say that information they have received about the situation in East Timor through UNHCR's mass information campaign and the waning power of the militias has prompted many to come forward. Saturday morning 462 people returned to Dili by ship. A similar number are expected to disembark Wednesday in Dili when the ship completes its second rotation, as around 600 refugees had already gathered in Kupang's Fatululi transit centre by Tuesday morning.
At the same time, visits by a Timorese returnee and UNHCR staff to a refugee shelter in Sydney, Australia, have apparently swayed a good number of people there. Nineteen came home by air yesterday (Monday) from Australia (via Darwin) and 98 more have signed up for repatriation and will be flown directly to East Timor from Sydney on Wednesday, 12 January. More Timorese are expected to register for return in the coming days.
Over 300 of the approximately 750 Timorese remaining in Australia after the September evacuations are free to travel immediately, while others are still receiving medical care or are their family members.
Eighty Timorese families in Kefa's Nain camp who had registered for repatriation Monday to Oecussi through the Bobometo crossing changed their mind at the last minute. They cited persistent rumours of insecurity in the enclave, including the alleged rape of a returnee in December. Hundreds of Timorese had continued to repatriate to Oecussi without incident until Monday's cancellation. UNHCR staff and authorities on both sides of the border are looking into allegations and rumours. As of yesterday (10 January), a total of 127,654 people had returned to East Timor.