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Final effort to help 30,000 East Timorese refugees go home

Final effort to help 30,000 East Timorese refugees go home

East Timor President Xanana Gusmão has launched a final bid with UNHCR and IOM to persuade East Timorese refugees in West Timor to repatriate. Those who decide to return by year's end will receive transportation to their hometown and a repatriation package.
1 November 2002
Returnee children at East Timor's Batugade transit centre.

DILI, East Timor, November 1 (UNHCR) - East Timor President Xanana Gusmão today embarked on a final effort with the UN refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help East Timorese refugees in West Timor go home.

On Friday, President Gusmão travelled to Indonesian West Timor with UNHCR and IOM officials to persuade some 30,000 East Timorese refugees living in camps there to return home. Those who express a willingness to return by the end of the year will receive transportation to their hometowns and a repatriation package containing a one-month supply of food and a variety of domestic items.

The Indonesian government said it would provide Indonesian rupiah 1.5 million ($162) per family to those willing to go back.

An estimated 260,000 people fled East Timor amid a wave of violence following the August 1999 referendum that saw voters overwhelmingly support the territory's independence from Indonesia. The violence lasted several weeks, leaving many people dead and the infrastructure in ruins. Militia groups uprooted entire communities and forced them into neighbouring Indonesian territory while others fled into the mountains to escape the violence.

Since then, some 220,000 refugees have gone home to an independent East Timor. When UNHCR chief Ruud Lubbers visited the country for its Independence Day celebrations in May, he noted the large numbers of East Timorese who had already repatriated, and said that he saw no reason for the remaining refugees not to return home.

The agency, however, has emphasised that East Timorese who decide not to go home will have the option of remaining in West Timor or resettling in other parts of Indonesia. UNHCR said it was planning to gradually phase out its involvement in East Timor. The agency has had no permanent presence in West Timor since September of 2001, when three of its staff were murdered by anti-independence militia in the town of Atambua.