|Subject: For East Timor's displaced, the
return home is slow
Agence France Presse -- English
October 12, 2007 Friday 3:05 AM GMT
For East Timor's displaced, the return home is slow
Nelson da Cruz
DILI, Oct 12 2007
Jacinta Barros, an East Timorese mother of eight, sits on a bed in her new
temporary home, a one-room affair that sleeps 13 of her relatives, refugees
from unrest last year who still cannot go home.
By day, the spartan room bakes in the searing tropical sun and by night it
gets chilly as a wind blows under the eaves where ceilings should be.
It is a step up from the camp they have moved from, but only just, as tiny,
impoverished East Timor still struggles to shift thousands of people
displaced by the violence that flared among security forces back to their
Some 155,000 people, or about 15 percent of East Timor's population, were
estimated to have fled their homes amid the sudden bloodshed that followed
the sacking of deserting soldiers.
Divisions arose among people from the east and west, dividing previously
harmonious neighbourhoods. At least 37 people were killed.
According to government figures, 62,000 are still living in camps in Dili
and across the predominantly Catholic nation.
The 60 families at this complex of three-by-three metre (yard) rooms are in
a kind of limbo, moving from the camps ahead of the onset of the rainy
season, but still lacking homes or fearing security is too lax for them to
Their plight illustrates the ongoing difficulties East Timorese authorities
face in coping with the displaced despite the presence of thousands of
international peacekeepers and UN police despatched in the wake of the
Barros' home and shop were torched and her family evacuated with nothing but
the clothes on their backs. The bed she sits on is one of just two pieces of
furniture her family managed to salvage from their home -- by paying
neighbours to retrieve them.
"We had to flee because there were serious threats to our lives, because we
come from Baucau" in the east, Barros said. "Every night we have to sleep
together, the 13 of us, in this small space. My children have to sleep on
plastic sheets as we have no carpet," said Barros, describing the room as
little more than a "stall at the market".
The room, adorned with a poster of the Virgin Mary, is built of a
traditional bark and while there are roofs, they lack ceilings for
insulation, Barros said.
"When the wind blows, dust enters the room making our things dirty and my
one-month-old baby cough," she complained.
The family cooks in the open, in front of their room, sharing the space with
five neighbouring families, while they share a bathroom with one other
Neighbour Antastacia Wonga, 29, is from Indonesia's Flores island. She
shares her room with her husband, mother-in-law and four children.
"This room is okay, I guess. It is just a little bit better than that in
Canossa (the convent where they sheltered previously), because we can now be
protected from the rain and wind," she told AFP.
"The problem is our family has to eat, change clothes and sleep in the same
Wonga and her East Timorese husband also fled Dili with nothing but what
they were wearing.
"Everything else was burned along with our home. Even our pets were killed
or stolen," Wonga said.
The complex is just a few hundred metres from a church and a police station,
and a UN police patrol vehicle is parked nearby, but still rock-throwing
sporadically breaks out, residents said.
Such low-level violence persists in erupting between rival groups -- it is
not always clear just what the disputes are -- across Dili and other areas
of the country, disrupting the lives of ordinary people.
Temporary homes were built at three locations in the seaside capital last
year and provide shelter for 300 families, said Joaquim Paulo, an official
who assesses the potential of reintegrating people into their old
No more will be built, however, as the monsoon will soon hit, said manpower
and community reinsertion minister Dominggas Alves.
"The IDPs (internally displaced people) themselves also do not want to stay
in these transit places because what they want is to return to their own
places," he said.
Many homes however were destroyed, or security remains a concern, but the
government plans to help them, he said.
"But as to how we will do that I cannot tell you yet.
"If we can return them all to their homes next year, that would be great.
But we have to see that their numbers are great, therefore priorities will
have to be set."
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