Subject: Aid agency warns of food shortage in East Timor

Australian Broadcasting Corporation The World Today - Tuesday, August 1, 2000 12:37

Aid agency warns of food shortage in East Timor

Well if the UNHCR is right and authorities in West Timor are going to find it hard for the absorption of some of those who wish to stay on with Indonesia, agencies across the other side in East Timor are saying they're going to find equal problem.

The Catholic aid agency, Caritas Australia, says on top of the violent tensions against refugees linked with the militia groups, East Timor faces a very serious food shortage later on this year.

The first point of call for any of the returning refugees from West Timor is the new transit centre in Dili. The coordinator for Caritas Australia's East Timor Program, Margaret McAfferty, has been telling Michael Vincent this morning the centre would find it very difficult to cope with thousands of refugees returning at once.

MARGARET MCAFFERTY: Well the transit centre itself is a very basic facility where people return to and they are given basic food supplies, tarpaulins, ground sheets, so it really would be very packed. And they're there only for a day or two days and the aim is to then take them out back into the provinces.

MICHAEL VINCENT: So would East Timor be able to cope if up to 80,000 people or more returned, in a very short space of time?

MARGARET MCAFFERTY: Yes, I think the question is it's not just the infrastructure and how the infrastructure copes but it's questions of the numbers that are in West Timor when they come back. There's a high percentage of those people that are militias or have been involved in the violence in some way or are related to those who've been involved.

And so there'll be a huge tension. So I think the actual transfer of the refugees will not be such a significant problem, though of course if they all cross the border tomorrow, it would put a huge strain on the services for relocation.

MICHAEL VINCENT: What problems have already been faced by the East Timorese who are trying to make a go of it now, let alone these possible new arrivals?

MARGARET MCAFFERTY: I would say some of the questions are about the unemployment situation which already exists in Timor and how that would be exacerbated. The fact that the local, those new returnees would not have planted and wouldn't have the food supplies or the crops under way, and already the latter part of the year is, we know, that there will be fairly serious food shortages in many parts of the country. So they would also be returning at a time when we're going into a food deficit period. So that would put a strain for agencies delivering food and relief.

COMPERE: Margaret McAfferty is the coordinator for Caritas Australia's East Timor Program. She was speaking to our reporter, Michael Vincent.

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