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East Timor - emergency update

From the UNHCR NGO Unit


5 October 1999

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.

At a glance

  • UNHCR concerned over West Timor registration
  • Office established in Atambua
  • Preparations continue for airlift return


Two more aid flights arrived today, Tuesday, in Kupang carrying UNHCR supplies and more material is expected to be ferried this week to the West Timor capital.

UNHCR sent staff to the border town of Atambua today to establish a presence in the area where most of the displaced are located. A mission by Indonesian government officials and a UNHCR staff member to Atambua last week found 136,000 displaced Timorese living in more than two dozen camps and the town of Atambua itself.

UNHCR opened an office in Kupang last week and now has nine international staff members in West Timor. An estimated 40,000 East Timorese are in camps in the capital.

Since the Indonesian government announced on Saturday, 2 October, its agreement to begin returning people who wish to go back to East Timor, UNHCR has been working out practical details for return flights. The first flight of East Timorese wanting to go back to Dili should take place later in the week, possibly on Friday.

Today, UNHCR informed the governor of West Timor that it is moving ahead with its planning and that it has discussed with police and military officials arrangements to provide security for the returnees. The governor expressed satisfaction with UNHCR*s preparations.'

UNHCR also shared its concern with the governor about the registration, which started on Monday, by Indonesian authorities of the people from East Timor in the camps in West Timor. Registration forms distributed in camps asked inhabitants if they wish to return to East Timor, whether they want to stay permanently or temporarily in West Timor, or join the Indonesian governments 'transmigration program'.

UNHCR told the governor a secure environment may not exist now in many of the refugee sites and that people may be unable to make a free and informed choice. The governor played down UNHCR's concerns and said the registration was meant to ensure that those who needed assistance would get it.


Five boats carrying 150 East Timorese who fled during the post-referendum violence put ashore Tuesday morning in Dili, in the first known instance of spontaneous return. The group told UNHCR staff at the harbor that they had fled by sea to nearby Atauro island several weeks ago. The party sent scouts back to Dili who reported that it was now safe to return, and, on disembarking, all of the passengers were able to move immediately back to their homes.

Every day, residents of Dili approach UNHCR with news of family members who were deported and have made contact from as far away as Surabaya and Bali. Many East Timorese have been able to reach Dili by telephone from other islands in Indonesia as the local network, although not fully functional, can still receive incoming calls. ICRC has put a satellite telephone at the disposal of families who have a contact number for relatives.

UNHCR continues preparations for the repatriation by air from West Timor. Most of the activity is concentrated on the airport and the stadium. At the stadium, which will act as a transit center, ICRC will register returnees and gather information on separated families, World Vision will distribute UNHCR return kits, and Médecins Sans Frontières will carry out a medical screening. Interfet will provide security.

UNHCR, ICRC and several NGOs plan to begin the first phase of a shelter program this Friday in Dili with a general distribution of plastic sheeting. Kits of wood, corrugated metal sheets and other hardware will be distributed during a second phase.

A general rice distribution was carried out Tuesday in Dili, involving workers from all the humanitarian agencies and NGOs. UNHCR staff supervised one of the six collection areas set up in Dili for the purpose.


Public Information Section

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