Timor: sporadic spontaneous return continues
A group of 121 East Timorese refugees spontaneously returned to East Timor's Oecussi enclave on Monday from Indonesian-controlled West Timor, the biggest single group to do so in one day since July. Since aid workers withdrew from West Timor following the murders of three UNHCR staff members on 6 September, 1,070 refugees have returned on their own - nearly 800 during October alone.
The arrivals said militia gangs continue to control West Timor refugee sites, preventing departures and threatening those who leave. There were stories of militiamen ordering refugees to return to their huts from nearby fields by 2 p.m. and being confined to the camps until the next day in order to prevent escape. The camps are well-patrolled and militiamen monitor all movements. The Indonesian military is present in some camps during part of the day, allowing some refugees to repatriate.
Some recent returnees say they paid local officials or other authorities to leave for East Timor. Some also pay local truck drivers or other refugees to carry their goods up to the border. While the amount paid is not large, it is significant for the refugees.
UNHCR has expanded transit centres along the East Timor border to handle more returnees, but the number of refugee arrivals remains small because of continued intimidation by militias in West Timor.