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Refugee Return from West Timor a Priority

Refugee Return from West Timor a Priority

West Timor officials agree that the return of some 80,000 refugees to East Timor is a priority, a UNHCR delegation to Indonesia reported. UNHCR plans to be involved in any return, but will be based largely on the East Timor side of the border.
14 September 2001
Internally displaced East Timorese in Wini Camp, Kefa area, West Timor.

EAST TIMOR, Sept 14 (UNHCR) - West Timor officials are fully in line with Jakarta's policy that refugee return to East Timor is a priority, the UN refugee agency reported on September 14. Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Søren Jessen-Petersen, leading a high-level UNHCR delegation to Indonesia, also noted a more positive atmosphere in discussions with Indonesian officials. Some 183,000 East Timorese refugees have returned home from West Timor since 1999, having fled their homes in the wake of violence following East Timor's independence referendum. An estimated 80,000 refugees, however, remain in West Timor, and few have returned over the past year.

During the delegation's visit to East Timor on September 14, Jessen-Petersen stressed that UNHCR wants to be part of the voluntary return process, but would focus most of its efforts on the East Timor side of the border. According to UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, any UN activity on the West Timor side would first require UN security authorisation from New York. "Given such an authorisation, UNHCR could be involved in some cross-border, mobile activities to help with the returns," said Redmond. "But a direct, full-time UNHCR presence in West Timor is not envisaged. We would work from East Timor."

On September 13, Jessen-Petersen and UNHCR Asia and Pacific Director Jean-Marie Fakhouri visited West Timor, the most senior staff to travel there since the murders of three UNHCR workers on September 6, 2000. The UN refugee officials travelled to the site of the killings in the town of Atambua. They visited the site of the former UNHCR office, where they placed a wreath and held a moment's silence in honor of slain UNHCR staff members Pero Simundza, Samson Aregahegn and Carlos Caceres.