East Timor: returns before transition
With only 17 days to go before East Timor becomes the world's youngest nation, UNHCR is concentrating its efforts on facilitating the voluntary return of as many of the remaining 55,000 refugees as possible ahead of the state's transition from U.N. administration to an East Timorese government under President-elect Xanana Gusmão.
Over the last month, more than 6,000 refugees have returned to East Timor, the highest monthly repatriation rate in more than two years. Since the beginning of our repatriation operation in October 1999, nearly 205,000 East Timorese have returned home.
In order to help encourage as many of the remaining 55,000 East Timorese refugees to return, President-elect Gusmão himself is working with UNHCR to encourage his countrymen to repatriate and to work towards reconciliation.
Mr. Gusmão is currently in South Sulawesi together with our head of operations in Dili in a joint effort to broker the return of some 1,000 East Timorese refugees. Earlier Mr. Gusmão and UNHCR staff travelled to neighbouring West Timor where mass meetings were held with refugees in Atambua and Kefa.
UNHCR believes that East Timor's imminent independence, our ongoing reconciliation activities, and the extensive mass information campaign will help spur more of the remaining 55,000 refugees to head home in the weeks to come.