Timor Emergency Update
Militiamen on Monday stopped a UNHCR team at the Noelbaki camp, 20 kilometres outside Kupang, from arranging transportation for refugees wishing to return to East Timor. The team was to pick up refugees at Noelbaki to bring them to the Fatululi processing centre in Kupang to register and join planes or ships returning people to East Timor. But three men wearing fatigues threatened people planning to return. UNHCR held discussions with representatives of police, the military and the governor's office but had to pull out of the camp before dark.
UNHCR on Saturday arranged for a visit to Dili of five refugees at Noelbaki to look at the situation in East Timor. They visited their homes in Dili, met with the clergy at a local church and had a briefing on the overall situation from the commander of the International Force in East Timor. On their return to Kupang, the five refugees confirmed their intent to return home and have begun to inform others in Noelbaki about what they saw and heard in Dili. But on Monday, airlift flights from Kupang to Dili carried only 180 returnees and these were people who had been in Fatululi.
Meanwhile, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration transported on Monday 160 refugees from Nenuk camp at Atambua, the main town in West Timor's Belu district along the border with East Timor. Some 240 refugees had registered to go back from Nenuk, but the others did not show up at the last minute when 11 trucks came to move them to the border crossing of Motaain. Indonesian army troops escorted the returnees up to the border and the refugees then proceeded to Batoe Gade in East Timor. Earlier last month, more than 100 people joined the first overland convoy from Atambua to East Timor. UNHCR held discussions with Indonesian authorities later on Monday evening in a bid to facilitate the land movement of people wishing to go back from the Belu region, which hosts about 150,000 of the estimated 219,000 refugees in West Timor.
Also on Monday, the two ferries chartered by IOM conducted the regular run from the port of Atapupu, 20 kilometres north of Atambua, to Dili, transporting a total of 917 returnees. Returnees by ferry from Atapupu on Saturday totalled 1,374. So far, 7,542 returnees have been moved by ferry from Atapupu to Dili since repatriation started there late last month.
Harassment of UNHCR staff and returnees continued in the Atambua area. An unruly mob led by militiamen armed with machetes and spears on Monday stopped a convoy of three trucks and bus from picking up refugees at Halewen camp near the Atambua airport. Police fired several shots in the air but the militiamen continued blocking the entrance and stood their ground despite the arrival of army reinforcements. The UNHCR team decided to pull back. As the team was withdrawing, the crowd stoned the vehicles, causing minor damage.
UNHCR on Monday began airlifting Timorese refugees from Flores island to Dili. An early morning flight transported 96 people from the Flores airport at Maumere. A second flight carried 84 returnees. And a later evening flight was to move 95 people.
UNHCR over the weekend sent relief supplies to Ambeno, an East Timor enclave in northern West Timor. More then 9,000 refugees were reported to have returned to the enclave from the surrounding hills in West Timor. Most of the enclave's 50,000 residents have fled to the surrounding hills in West Timor.