First UNHCR aid flight arrives in Timor-Leste as emergency airlift gets under way
DILI, Timor-Leste, June 5 (UNHCR) - UNHCR's emergency airlift of shelter supplies and other basic items for some 30,000 displaced people in troubled Timor-Leste is well under way, with the first flight landing in Dili early Monday. A second sortie, by a Boeing 747 jumbo jet bound for Darwin in northern Australia, is set to leave Amman, Jordan, later today, with further flights planned.
The first flight, an Antonov-12 cargo plane, brought in 14 tonnes of urgently needed lightweight family tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans from UNHCR stockpiles in Jordan. The supplies are being stored temporarily in portable warehouses, flown in Sunday from the agency's logistics base in Medan, Indonesia, and rapidly set up in a secure area next to the airport.
In coordination with other agencies, UNHCR will use the newly arrived supplies to ease congestion among the more crowded spontaneous sites that have sprung up in Dili, and those with the poorest conditions.
"Some camps have up to 13,000 people on a site suitable for half that number," said Greg Garras, UNHCR's team leader in Dili. "People are living in terribly overcrowded sites with very little in the way of sanitation facilities, despite the heroic efforts of the agencies on the ground."
Some 65,000 people have fled their homes in Dili and sought refuge next to churches, convents, clinics, schools, international agencies, the airport and other sites. There are currently about 40 spontaneous sites of various sizes in eight districts of the capital.
"Just how long people will need to stay in these camps depends on the broader security and political situation. While we hope for a speedy resolution, in the meantime, we need to improve the conditions and put measures in place to protect the vulnerable," said Garras. "It's a matter of hoping for the best, and planning for the worst."
To ease the congestion, UNHCR expects to establish two planned camps. A number of potential, additional sites are currently being assessed in coordination with the Ministry of Labour.
UNHCR's emergency team arrived in Dili today to reinforce the team already on the ground. The team includes camp planning specialists as well as protection, community services, logistics and administration personnel.
The lack of security in the camps is deeply concerning for UNHCR and other agencies.
"In a number of camps, the security situation is fragile. Poor conditions and overcrowding are exacerbating tensions and we need some kind of security presence as a preventative protection measure," said Garras.
"We recognize this is normally police work. But in the absence of a national police force we're calling on the international security forces to provide support. "
UNHCR is planning to work closely with other agencies to develop a coordinated approach to protection, putting in place systems and services to protect the vulnerable.
"We're aware there is considerable capacity in this area amongst the local organisations and we'll be seeking to work in concert with that expertise," Garras added.
A total of 400 tonnes of supplies from UNHCR's regional Middle East stockpiles are expected to be sent to Timor-Leste. Darwin, in northern Australia, will be used as a staging point to unload the large B-747 cargo planes, which are too big to fly into Dili. The supplies will then be ferried to Dili on smaller planes, or by sea.
Monday's advance consignment of emergency relief supplies included 200 lightweight family tents, 1,000 bundles of plastic sheets and 400 jerry cans
UNHCR's total dispatch for some 30,000 displaced people will include: 6,000 lightweight tents; 6,000 jerry cans; 6,000 plastic sheets; 6,000 kitchen sets; 12,000 mosquito nets; 30,000 blankets.
UNHCR is urgently seeking some US $4.5 million in funding for the Timor-Leste operation.
By Ariane Rummery in Dili, Timor-Leste