Timor Emergency Update
Despite continued harassment by militiamen, UNHCR stepped up its repatriation programme in West Timor, opening a second land corridor for Timorese returnees on Thursday.
Five trucks ferried 103 returnees from Haekesak along the West Timor border to the East Timor town of Maliana just across the rough frontier. Another 337 went on their own from Haekesak to Maliana, where thousands of Timorese refugees have gone into in recent weeks. Overland returns from Haekesak are expected to take place daily.
Returns by land from Atambua along the Motaain-Batugade border crossing continued Thursday, with 450 people heading home in 13 private vehicles and 12 trucks - the biggest convoy so far. UNHCR has organized four return convoys on this route, including a third one on Wednesday which moved 194 people.
UNHCR expects to open a third land road across the West Timor border at Motamouic to move returnees to Suai in East Timor, where many people have been returning on their own.
More than 18,000 people have returned spontaneously to East Timor.
On Wednesday, 21 Indonesian military trucks, in a surprise move, transported 942 refugees from the Kefamenanu town in central West Timor to the border of the East Timor enclave of Ambeno 3 kilometres away. Although UNHCR was not informed of the movement, staff in Kefamenanu were able to arrange transport for vulnerable people, including the sick and the elderly on the other side. Following that movement, 1,200 refugees in nearby areas, principally at Wini, went to Ambeno spontaneously on Thursday.
Because of the opening of the land routes, more people are getting on trucks instead of boats from the port of Atapupu, 20 kilometres north of Atambua. Only one repatriation ferry, instead of two, has been operating from Atapupu since Wednesday. The ferry transported 505 returnees to Dili in East Timor on Wednesday and 360 on Thursday.
UNHCR now plans to open a third port in West Timor for its repatriation programme to transport by boat refugees from Wini to Liquicia in East Timor.
Airlift flights continued. On Thursday, a Transall C160 plane, making three rotations, transported 269 returnees from the West Timor capital, Kupang, to Dili. On Wednesday, the plane moved 276 to Dili. Also on Wednesday, 116 returnees were airlifted from Darwin in northern Australia to Dili.
With more and more people returning in various places in East Timor, UNHCR staff have been pressed to help in the secondary movement of returnees. For example, transport arrangements have to be made for people arriving in Dili to Baucau in central East Timor, or to Maliana, Suai and other towns in the western part of the territory.
UNHCR also is moving ahead with its programme to help returnees rebuild shelters. Several bids have been received by the UNHCR office in Surabaya, logistics hub in Indonesia for the Timor operations, for the procurement of shelter materials, including timber, nails and plastic sheeting.
On Thursday, four private radio stations in West Timor began broadcasting UNHCR's repatriation programme. Newspapers have also been publishing UNHCR's efforts to help those wishing to return. Leaflets outlining return procedures and conditions in East Timor were distributed at Noelbaki camp. UNHCR has been having difficulty starting a return programme at Noelbaki because of the presence of militiamen opposed to repatriation.