Timor: 50,000 have returned this year
Nearly 50,000 East Timorese refugees have returned home this year. Nearly 3,200 of them went home in the last four months, despite the withdrawal of aid workers from West Timor following the September murder of the three UNHCR aid workers. Total refugee returns to East Timor since October 1999 now stand at some 174,000 people.
During the first eight months of the year, UNHCR, IOM and others organized convoys to transport the refugees home. But since the evacuation of aid workers last September, most of the returnees have crossed the frontier on their own - renting vehicles to go to the border or walking from their camps.
Yesterday, UNHCR organized an overnight visit by eight East Timorese refugees to Baucau, the first such go-and-see visit since UN staff left West Timor in September. The eight refugee representatives were collected at the frontier by UN helicopter and flown to Baucau where they spent the night with relatives and held meetings with local leaders before returning home. They were well-received by local leaders and the spirit was very positive.
Today, some 350 refugee representatives arrived in East Timor by boat from Kupang on a three-week visit organized by the East Timor's U.N. administration. UNHCR is assisting the visit by providing land transport and undertaking monitoring for any protection problems - which will be the longest and largest such go-and-see visit to-date.
Everyone expects these visits will help to boost returns to East Timor. In connection with this, UNHCR has increased its efforts to counter misinformation about conditions in East Timor, which is rampant in the refugee settlements. UNHCR has sent brochures, posters and cassette tapes across the border with the help of the Indonesian government's Task Force on Refugees. UNHCR also broadcasts regular radio messages into West Timor using UN and local Timorese radio stations.