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Timor Emergency Update

Timor Emergency Update

6 April 2000

On Wednesday, 5 April, government workers distributed food rations at Tuapukan - largest of the estimated 200 refugee settlements in West Timor - a week after an Indonesian official in Jakarta told UNHCR assistance to refugees would continue for three more months.

A one-month ration of 100 kilogrammes of rice was distributed to each family at Tuapukan, home to 23,000 of the more than 100,000 East Timorese in West Timor. The workers told UNHCR staff at the camp that the ration "may be the last" from the Indonesian government.

The government had previously announced aid to the East Timorese would be discontinued by 31 March. But in a meeting on 30 March with UNHCR, the Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare and Poverty Alleviation, Basri Hasanuddin, indicated that assistance would continue during a three-month "transition period," beginning 1 April, to allow East Timorese to decide and take measures on whether they would remain or return to East Timor. However, he said Indonesia will require help from the international community. What this will entail is still subject to discussion.

Despite Mr. Hasanuddin's assurances, UNHCR continues to receive mixed signals from both national and local officials. In the West Timor province capital of Kupang this week, the governor said the camps are now under UNHCR's responsibility. Wednesday's message at Tuapukan was indicative of the conflicting positions on aid at different levels of government. Also noteworthy was a statement to the Tuapukan crowd that the government was handing out food rations only to East Timorese still active in the Indonesian Army, or TNI. Tuapukan shelters not only refugees but also TNIs, police, militias and civil servants.

Refugees returning to East Timor say that over the past three months food rations have been sporadic. The Indonesian government says each refugee is receiving 1,500 rupiah per person per day, but the returnees say they did not get this amount regularly.

The Indonesian government supplies roughly 10 percent of the food needs in the camps, the World Food Programme covers 45 percent and Catholic Relief Services handles the rest with contributions from the United States. However, health, water, sanitation, security and administration of the camps have been under the Indonesian government, with help from aid agencies.

UNHCR is proceeding with its programmes in West Timor along the lines outlined by Mr. Hassanuddin. Since the start of the refugee crisis in September, its main activity in West Timor has been voluntary repatriation, although it provides a limited amount of plastic sheeting, blankets, pans and water containers, counselling services and consultant facilities for water and sanitation.

Basic services have been deteriorating steadily, but UNHCR has said repeatedly that it is in no position to replace the government in providing essential needs in the camps. Beginning next month, UNHCR will take over from the World Food Programme direct distribution of food to refugees. UNHCR, through its main implementing partners, CRS and CARE, will pick up food from the WFP warehouses and hand this out in the camps.

But even before this happens, separation of militias, police and TNIs from the camps must take place. UNHCR wants the camps to be purely civilian to enable refugees to decide their future freely.

West Timor

The rate of returns from the West Timor camps dropped sharply this week. More than 700 returnees were recorded - about half the number in the previous week. There were a number of explanations: civil servants were waiting for salaries, which are usually paid at this time; people want to harvest crops at the end of the rainy season; and life is difficult in East Timor. The reality of immigration controls is slowly sinking in, especially among parents whose children normally attend Indonesian universities.

Security in East Timor is a paramount concern, especially among those involved in the atrocities that accompanied the 30 August 1999 referendum in East Timor. But intimidation by pro-Indonesian elements also continues in the camps, although not as intense as it was before.

Since last October, more than 158,000 refugees have returned to East Timor under a repatriation programme carried out by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration. Of this number, nearly 30,000 went back this year.

The government says results of a survey last month revealed 134,000 refugees are still in West Timor. UNHCR will conduct its own registration before taking over food distribution in May and expects this will clarify the number of remaining refugees - half of whom are expected to return to East Timor in the next several months.

Mass Information

UNHCR is stepping up go-and-see visits by refugee leaders to enable them to have a first-hand look at the situation in their villages in East Timor. Thousands continue to attend the Saturday family reunions at the East Timor border town of Batugade, but the messages exchanged there are mixed. There are families advising relatives in West Timor to remain in Indonesia until conditions improve in East Timor.

In the meantime, UNHCR staff members are continuing to broadcast news about life in East Timor, showing photographs and videos of conditions in their home villages.

East Timor

Around 60 demobilized East Timorese and their families returned safely to East Timor this week. It was the largest group of former Indonesian army soldiers to repatriate so far. The return of the ex-TNIs and their families totalling 500 started on Saturday, 1 April, and was completed on Thursday, a month after they left the camps in the Kupang area in West Timor that are controlled by pro-Indonesian elements.

Because most of them are from Aileu district, a cantonment site for the Falintil, who fought 24 years of Indonesian rule, the return required prolonged negotiations that involved representatives of the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), the U.N. Civilian Police and the Peacekeeping Force. Although the returnees said they did not commit any crime, there were some last minute problems that had to be sorted out. One returnee stepped forward to confess membership in a militia group although he said he did not kill anyone. Several ex-TNIs were returning to houses occupied by the Falintil - a recurrent problem that UNTAET hopes to resolve with the setting up of a property commission soon.

In the last weeks, there were several incidents of beatings of returnees, but so far there have been no reports of murders of people who had come back. At Manatutu town, about a dozen returnee families remain at a school a week after their return, fearing for their safety in their neighbourhoods. In general, returnees have integrated peacefully. Members of the CNRT, the umbrella organization for East Timorese political groups, are active at the grass roots urging victims of last autumn's atrocities not to take the law into their hands and wait until courts are established. CNRT volunteer workers are conducting reconciliation meetings and cooperate with UNHCR in providing information on safe returns.

Life has returned to normal in most areas of East Timor. Children attending schools are familiar sights in villages. UNTAET says 92 percent of children who were enrolled in 1998-99 are back in primary schools. More than 147,000 children are attending 686 schools registered by UNICEF, and are taught by 6,400 teachers. People are harvesting crops at the end of the rainy season. More U.N. police are deployed. As of early April, 1,052 of the proposed 1,600-strong CIVPOL had been fielded in the territory.

Development of institutions to put order to mushrooming businesses, to control motor vehicles and to check rising criminality amid massive unemployment remains slow. CIVPOL's detention centre in Dili, which was built for 76 prisoners, now has 77 inmates. Seventy-five percent of them are facing murder charges and some have been confined since October.


UNHCR has distributed some 5,000 kits under its shelter programme, one of the major rehabilitation projects undertaken by the international community in East Timor. UNHCR plans to hand out 35,000 shelter kits with help from eight agencies by the end of this year. Each kit has cement, iron roofing, timber, nails and tools. UNHCR also is undertaking quick impact projects in East Timor.