East Timor: UNHCR and IOM working for return of remaining refugees

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration are launching a final effort to help East Timorese refugees living in West Timor to go home by the end of this year. An estimated 220,000 East Timor residents, who fled to West Timor in the immediate aftermath of the 1999 independence referendum, have already gone back. But some 30,000 remain in refugee camps in the Indonesian province of West Timor.

This morning, East Timor President Xanana Gusmão, accompanied by UNHCR and IOM officials, travelled to West Timor in a bid to stimulate the return of remaining East Timorese refugees. Those who express a willingness to return by the end of the year will be transported to their hometowns and villages. They will also receive a repatriation package containing a one-month supply of food, as well as a variety of domestic items. The Indonesian government said it would provide Indonesian Rupiah 1,500,000 (US $162) per family to those willing to go back.

UNHCR emphasised that those East Timorese who decide not to go back will have the possibility to remain in West Timor or resettle in other parts of Indonesia. UNHCR said it was planning to gradually phase out its involvement in East Timor. UNHCR has had no permanent presence in West Timor since September of 2001, when three of its staff were murdered by anti-independence militia in the town of Atambua.