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Timor: repatriation on the increase

Briefing notes

Timor: repatriation on the increase

8 December 2000

As of 7 December, a total of 173,554 refugees had repatriated to East Timor. In November alone, a total of 1,960 refugees returned home spontaneously, the largest number of returnees since July when UNHCR and IOM staff in West Timor were organizing returns.

November's returns were more than twice the number of East Timorese who repatriated in October, showing an encouraging increase in spontaneous repatriations and indicative of reports that more refugees would like to go home. UNHCR is concerned by reports that refugees are having difficulty finding the appropriate Indonesian officials in order to register to return. Returnees say that there is a fairly complicated procedure in West Timor in which the refugees have to get authorization to leave from local chiefs as well as from the government refugee task force and then reach the border, often on foot carrying their personal effects. It's a long process that seems to intimidate the refugees who are already showing a lot of bravery in the militia-controlled camps by voicing a desire to return home.

The Indonesian government's refugee task force planned to start a registration in West Timor's camps next week, but that operation has again been postponed until January or February. The government has said that it will continue to provide 400 grams of rice a day to the refugees together with a token allowance of about $1.50 a week, which it had threatened to cut from 6 December.

Relief agencies were forced to cease operations and to withdraw from West Timor following the murder in Atambua of three UNHCR aid workers three months ago. More than 100,000 refugees are estimated to remain in West Timor in some 200 settlements and camps.