UNHCR hands relief items to Timor-Leste, expresses concern about security situation

UNHCR on Friday handed relief items to the government of Timor-Leste to help families whose houses were destroyed during violence earlier this year. The refugee agency also expressed concern about fresh violence in the country.

UNHCR on Friday handed over emergency relief items to the Timor-Leste government, including 1,500 family tents.   © UNHCR/N.Ng

DILI, Timor-Leste, September 1 (UNHCR) - UNHCR on Friday handed over large quantities of tents, plastic sheeting and other relief items to the government of Timor-Leste to help families whose houses were destroyed during violence earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the refugee agency expressed concern about fresh friction in the fledgling nation, which was ravaged by clashes between rival groups for several weeks from late April. At the time, tens of thousands fled their homes in Dili to escape the violence.

"UNHCR is very concerned at the recent escalation of violence in Dili - in and around some displacement sites themselves - as well as within communities. We are also seeing the increasing polarisation of communities," chief spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

"Burning and stoning of houses in the capital has increased in recent days, as the city has returned to a higher level of violence. There appear to be attempts by some elements to polarise communities according to their place of origin," Redmond added.

According to UNHCR protection staff, in some camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) people live in fear of attacks and intimidation, and some of those who have returned to their homes are also fearful of nighttime attacks. "There is a clear need for an ongoing strong and robust international security presence until national institutions can be rebuilt," Redmond said.

Earlier Friday in Dili, the handover of 1,500 tents, 1,000 plastic sheets and 1,126 kerosene stoves took place at a ceremony attended by UNHCR, Minister of Labour and Community Reinsertion Arsenio Bano, and representatives of Japan and the European Commission, who both funded the supplies.

The relief items will support the government-led Simu Malu (Mutual Acceptance) programme and other initiatives for the safe return and sustainable reintegration of displaced Timorese people.

The plastic sheets will help make some damaged houses habitable while repairs are carried out, and tents can be used as temporary shelter while families rebuild. While these items will go some way toward addressing some practical issues, the key factor in whether people will leave their temporary displacement sites remains security.

While a number of IDPs have returned to their homes in the past weeks, there has been no large-scale movement back home and the displaced population remains significant. According to official estimates, some 67,900 IDPs remain at various sites in Dili, including church grounds, public buildings and camps. Another 78,000 people outside of Dili are residing primarily with host families.

The latest handover of relief supplies also marks an important shift in focus of UNHCR's emergency response to the Timor-Leste crisis, from providing emergency shelter and improving living conditions for displaced people to protection and reconciliation activities.

At the same time, UNHCR troubleshooting mobile teams will continue to provide technical support to the various IDP sites around Dili, with a particular focus on planning for the coming wet season. UNHCR will also continue to provide shelter assistance, when requested, to those institutions hosting displaced people in their grounds and buildings so that normal operations can resume.

In early June, UNHCR launched an emergency airlift to provide shelter and other relief supplies - including tents, plastic sheets, blankets, jerry cans, and stoves - and set to work improving conditions in some of the most congested makeshift encampments in Dili and its surrounds.