Timor: security in refugee sites improving
Repatriation convoys to East Timor will be run through Thursday, 23 December, when the return operation will be put on hold for four days over the Christmas weekend. Very few refugees are expected to come forward for repatriation during the holiday, when traditional masses will be celebrated across the island. UNHCR staff in West Timor will continue other work and maintain a presence in the camps. A similar interruption is planned for the weekend of the New Year, from 31 December to 2 January.
Returns to East Timor yesterday passed the 119,000 mark, and UNHCR staff say that despite three minor incidents in or around the West Timor camps since last Friday, security in the refugee sites is improving. Staff are now able to move around many of the more notorious militia-controlled camps without escorts, distributing leaflets on return and opening information centres. One of the incidents occured Sunday when UNHCR staff arrived in Tuapukan camp (population 13,000) to show a mass information video and were blocked, but not harmed, by an unarmed group who also chased away the audience which had gathered. Refugees at Tuapukan had asked to see videos of East Timor after we conducted several information sessions at the site.
UNHCR is continuing negotiations with Indonesian authorities to reinforce the security in camps, emphasizing the need for a better environment, not simply bodyguards for aid workers. Staff are also working on provisions for a significant number of Timorese who are not expected to go back until March, after the rainy season, or for refugees who so far are undecided about repatriation.
Since 8 October, 119,582 people have returned to East Timor, most of these with the assistance of UNHCR and IOM.