Subject: E. Timor refugees urged to return home immediately

Received from Joyo Indonesian News

The Jakarta Post [online]

February 27, 2002

East Timor refugees urged to return home immediately

NUSA DUA, Bali (JP): East Timorese refugees are being requested to return home immediately on a repatriation scheme, if they want to avoid starvation in the cramped refugee camps in neighboring West Timor

Raymond Hall, regional director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told The Jakarta Post in Nusa Dua on Wednesday that there are an estimated 70,000 East Timorese still living in refugee camps across West Timor.

"We have confirmed to them that various assistance including food assistance and local resettlement are available to them by the time they want to return to East Timor," Hall said.

Hall maintained that the UNHCR has made it clear that it would not, and is not willing to, resume large-scale humanitarian assistance in West Timor.

UNHCR stopped humanitarian aid in West Timor after three of its humanitarian workers were killed in Atambua, East Nusa Tenggara in September 2000.

Responding to the statement made by Johanis B. Kosapilawan, spokesman for the East Nusa Tenggara provincial government, on Monday, Hall added that UNHCR is not in the position to provide food assistance to the refugees.

Kosapilawan previously claimed that the provincialadministration had asked UNHCR to deal with the worsening situation, which includes the possible food crisis and serious medical problems faced by the refugees because the Indonesian government stopped providing humanitarian aid on Jan. 1 thisyear.

But, he claimed, UNHCR has not yet received the request.

"We have never received any request whatsoever, both from the central and provincial government. I met East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet Tallo in Kupang last week and he told me nothing about such a request," he explained.

UNHCR, he said, would only support Indonesia in therepatriation and local resettlement of the refugees.

The Indonesian government stopped humanitarian aid to East Timor refugees because of financial problems. The decision was also aimed at encouraging the refugees to return to their homeland.

As many as 290,000 East Timorese left their homes during post-ballot riots in September l999.

After a registration program for refugees was conducted in NTT in early June last year, it was reported that 98 percent of the displaced people opted to stay within Indonesian territory, adding to the burdens of the state as well as the poor province.

Kemala Anwil, spokesperson for UNHCR, added that it could only work with the province's field-coordinating unit (Sakorlak} to indirectly monitor the condition of the refugees. Sakorlak is a provincial government-sponsored agency in charge of handling East Timor refugees in Kupang and other areas of East Nusa Tenggara. (raw/dja)

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