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Timor: 421 to return next week

Briefing notes

Timor: 421 to return next week

23 February 2001

UNHCR and IOM plan to transport next week 421 East Timorese refugees in West Timor who have decided to return to East Timor. The two agencies are making arrangements for a ship to bring the refugees from the West Timor capital of Kupang to Dili in East Timor by the weekend of March 3-4.

The group is the biggest to be returned by boat by UNHCR and IOM since aid agencies withdrew from West Timor following the murders of three UNHCR staff last September. A special clearance was secured from the UN security coordinator in New York for the operation next week in West Timor, which remains under a phase five security alert. This bans UN workers from West Timor.

More than 175,000 East Timorese refugees have returned to East Timor from West Timor since October 1999 - 127,500 with help from UNHCR and IOM and the rest went back on their own. Since the beginning of this year, more than 700 refugees have returned, most spontaneously across the border.

Last week, UNHCR held a meeting in Indonesia to try and work out new initiatives to find solutions for an estimated 100,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor. The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor wants East Timorese refugees in West Timor to return and participate in elections in East Timor planned for next August.