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Timor: UNHCR strongly criticises lack of government cooperation

Briefing notes

Timor: UNHCR strongly criticises lack of government cooperation

14 July 2000

UNHCR is profoundly disappointed at the lack of cooperation we have received from Indonesian authorities in trying to resolve the longstanding problem of some 125,000 East Timor refugees in West Timor. We condemn the continuing violence and the steadily deteriorating security environment in which humanitarian staff have been forced to work. Because of this insecurity, we are now unable to carry out a vital registration of the refugee population.

The registration, which aimed to verify the current refugee population, was scheduled to take place between 12-15 July. The registration involved the deployment of some 750 registration staff to over 50 sites in the West Timor. Recent security incidents, however, prevented deployment of registration staff to camps in Kupang District.

Following the successful deployment on Monday and Tuesday, registration staff in a number of sites encountered aggressive groups of East Timorese. Both Indonesian and international humanitarian staff were subsequently threatened, including students from Kupang University who had been recruited for the registration. UNHCR's office in Betun was stoned on three occasions by besieging crowds, which damaged several vehicles, office premises and injured one staff. At two sites near Atambua, an angry crowd barred for almost two hours the registration staff from leaving the camps. And those are just some of the incidents, all of which took place in the presence of government security personnel who in most cases were unable to prevent some of the violence, but were able to protect the registration staff. Although a number of the perpetrators have been identified, no arrests have so far been made.

Without the information from this registration exercise, voluntary repatriation and local integration plans will continue to be obstructed, exacerbating an already volatile stand-off between local residents and the refugees in West Timor. Despite a memorandum of understanding with the government last October, Indonesian authorities are still unable or unwilling to ensure full and unhindered access to the refugees.

UNHCR and its partners want to help the refugees decide their own future, free of the intimidation and misinformation that have characterized the camps in West Timor for months. In order to carry out our work, three conditions are necessary. (1) The restoration of law and order in West Timor, (2) the separation of trouble-makers (militias) from the rest of the refugees, and (3) the government's clarification of the status of East Timorese who were formerly Indonesian soldiers, policemen or civil servants. Unless progress is made on these fronts, there is little UNHCR or the international community can do to help bring the crisis to an end. UNHCR is ready to play its part, but concerted government efforts are now long overdue.