Timor Emergency Update
The repatriation by air of East Timorese from West Timor resumed with three flights to Dili today, Monday, after a break on Sunday. The three flights carried a total of 292 returnees including 25 orphans and unaccompanied children who are going back to their orphanage in Liquica, 30 kms west of Dili.
With two UNHCR-chartered Transall flights Saturday, 9 October, Monday's count brought the total number of returns since the operation began Friday to 660 people aboard seven flights.
All Monday's returnees came from Assumption Church in Kupang. UNHCR plans to transport to Dili all of the remaining 500 Timorese from this church before moving on to Gor and Koni camps. These two sites together shelter around 11,000 refugees, according to the government.
UNHCR is planning to charter a second aircraft and possibly two ships - one with a capacity of 1,500 and the other 2,000 - later in the month. The additional transport will significantly step up the return movement.
A UNHCR staff member went to Atambua and Atapupu yesterday, Sunday, with an inter-agency mission led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The group included UN humanitarian agencies and staff from OFDA, American Refugee Committee and CARE.
During a briefing by the military and the police chief of Atambua, the mission was told that there were between 140,000 and 160,000 East Timorese displaced in towns along the border areas; 38,000 of them are in Atambua town, creating pressures on its 28,000 population. The aid workers were also told that militias have been disarmed and that although there have been problems with them, they are now under control. The mission queried local authorities about access to the East Timorese and were told that police will escort aid workers in the camps, which mirrors the procedure used in Kupang.
In a visit to Sesekoe camp, with a population estimated at 1,000, the mission was told by some families they have not received registration forms the Indonesian government is using to register East Timorese. UNHCR was told by several women heads of households that they want to go back to East Timor, but that militia leaders are in control of the site. As the group spoke with the refugees, a few militiamen claimed loudly that they want to remain in West Timor, and that Interfet troops deployed in East Timor were massacring civilians.
As the mission prepared to meet with NGOs at Atambua airport, word reached them of a security incident in a border village near Atapupu in which one national police officer was killed and two others wounded. The group was told that they would have to depart immediately as news of the encounter was likely to spread and officials feared an attack on the delegation by militias staying at a camp beside the airport. The meeting was called off and the mission flew back to Kupang.
The return of East Timorese from Kupang continues without incident. The UNHCR office in Dili reports that returnees, including priests, nuns, elderly and children, continue to leave the stadium transit centre for home after receiving a medical check-up and assistance package. Outside the stadium, crowds gather to spot family members and relatives.
The 25 unaccompanied children who were evacuated to West Timor from the Liquica orphanage on 11 September, and flown back to East Timor today, Monday, will remain in Dili temporarily in the care of Carmelite nuns.
General distributions of relief supplies began Saturday in Dili at two locations in the capital. Around one third of Dili's population received plastic sheeting and other basic assistance. The balance of the city will be served in operations on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Outside of Dili, UNHCR relief aid is now reaching Dare, Manatuto, Ermera, Gleno, Los Palos and Baucau on a regular basis. Some of the supplies are distributed through NGOs and other U.N. agencies, as well as directly by UNHCR. 44 metric tons of additional aid arrived this weekend by barge from Darwin, Australia. The same vessel carried seven more UNHCR four-wheel drive vehicles, which will increase mobility of aid workers.
On Saturday, UNHCR opened an office in Baucau, East Timor's second largest town. With the two based in Baucau, UNHCR now has 11 international staff working in East Timor. Additional Timorese staff are also being hired. Two local staff members, evacuated last month by the U.N. to Darwin at the height of the violence, have returned to East Timor and resumed their functions.
UNHCR is leading contingency planning with UNICEF, WFP, Oxfam and OCHA to prepare for a possible large-scale spontaneous return of East Timorese from crowded camps in West Timor.