Timor Emergency Update
More than 8,000 refugees went home to East Timor from Saturday to Monday as UNHCR opened new land and sea routes from West Timor.
Since UNHCR began a repatriation programme on 8 October, more than 64,000 people have returned to East Timor from West Timor and other areas in the Indonesian archipelago and Darwin in Australia. The figure includes around 22,000 who returned spontaneously - 4,000 of them coming back over the weekend.
UNHCR is also attempting to verify reports that another 20,000 people have returned on their own to East Timor's Ambeno enclave in the northern part of central West Timor since last week. Spontaneous returns to the enclave rapidly increased after Indonesian army trucks on Wednesday transported 942 returnees to the Ambeno border.
The government says more than a quarter of a million people fled into West Timor following a referendum on 30 August in which an overwhelming majority voted for East Timor's independence, triggering a militia rampage. Of this number, some 50,000 refugees came from Ambeno, where militias torched the main town of Oekussi.
Monday's returnees included 1,200 people in 240 families who joined the first UNHCR convoy that headed west from Wini to Ambeno. Another 360 people boarded the first ferry from Wini that sailed east to the East Timor town of Liquica. Wini is the third port to be opened for repatriation. The others are in Kupang and Atapupu, which is located north of the West Timor border town of Atambua. In Atapupu on Monday, 488 sailed on a ferry to Dili.
In the biggest overland convoy yet, 1,350 refugees travelled from Atambua through the Motaain-Batugade crossing into East Timor on Monday. Another 59 refugees joined a UNHCR convoy from Haekesak in West Timor to Maliana in East Timor on Monday.
UNHCR staff at Atambua have been discussing the possibility of opening two more land corridors at the Lakmarus-Lebos crossing and Motamouic-Suai frontier, where large numbers of refugees have been located in encampments along the West Timor border.
Also on Monday, two airlift flights transported 183 refugees from Kupang to Dili.
Militias continue to frustrate UNHCR efforts to repatriate people at the Noelbaki camp, 20 kilometres outside Kupang. Only 16 refugees left for repatriation from Noelbaki, despite the fielding of Indonesian troops there over the weekend to secure UNHCR staff and returnees. UNHCR teams have deployed in the camp to register those who wish to return. Noelbaki hosts 7,000 refugees.
On Monday, militias released two refugees captured Sunday at the Babometo area near the Ambeno enclave. The two refugees were seized after the International Force in East Timor last week detained in Ambeno an Indonesian driver who is a brother of a militia commander. The driver was held for questioning for 24 hours and subsequently freed.
UNHCR on Monday was also looking into reports that militiamen were tracking down 80 refugees who have enlisted to join a repatriation programme from Soe, 80 kilometres east of Kupang. Around 5,000 refugees in Soe want to return to East Timor.
UNHCR and other agencies have been ferrying relief supplies, mainly shelter materials to Oekussi. Trucks have also been sent there to transport spontaneous arrivals from the border to towns in Ambeno. UNHCR staff are also providing transport to refugees arriving in the East Timor border town of Suai.