Timor Emergency Update
East Timorese continued to cross from West to East Timor on foot with a group of 641 almost exclusively men arriving today, Monday, during the only 2 hours during which the border was open. The group came from West Timor's Hakesak area and crossed at the Soso border crossing toward Maliana in East Timor. It was not immediately clear why only men crossed and women and children were left behind. UNHCR was concerned about testimonies of some returnees who spoke of men being separated from women and children.
On Saturday, in just three hours between 4:00 and 7:00 p.m., around 1,000 East Timorese walked across the border to Maliana. They originated from different camps located in the area of Turiksain. Another 250 returnees crossed on Saturday morning. The movement then dried up on Sunday only to resume on Monday. It was not clear why the border was closed and opened at irregular intervals.
Returnees said the border was controlled by the anti-independence militia. Some testimonies indicated that the Indonesian army was moving people from remote camps to the Atambua area, reportedly to prepare for an organized large scale return movement to East Timor. Most returnees said more people were trying to cross from West to East.
UNHCR and other agencies meanwhile are making contingency plans for a possible bigger influx across the border. Three transit sites have been identified to welcome returnees in Muggir near Batugade (north), Maliana (centre) and Suai (south). Access to drinking water remains a major problem. Oxfam and other NGOs are installing water purification equipment. Already now, returnees are provided with humanitarian assistance, food and non-food items upon arrival in East Timor and before the onward journey to their homes.
Despite many concerns, the overall figures of East Timorese returning daily from West Timor and other parts of Indonesia continue to grow. By Monday more than 18,000 people had returned, be it in an organized fashion or spontaneously.
In the first such incident since the beginning of organized returns more than three weeks ago, a bus carrying 12 returnees from UNHCR's processing centre in Kupang to the port on Sunday was stoned and briefly held up by a group of unknown assailants. One man suffered injuries after being briefly taken off the bus by the attackers. Some passengers were slightly injured by shattered glass. The attackers fled as the Indonesian police intervened. UNHCR subsequently decided that all further movement should be carried out with police escort and during daylight hours.
The bus incident, as well as reports of anti-independence militia presence in the border area, further illustrated how precarious the security situation is in West Timor.