Subject: AU: An age of suffering: refugees on edge of abyss
Date: Sat, 07 Aug 1999 09:51:18 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Australian 2 August 99

An age of suffering: refugees on edge of abyss

FOUR-YEAR-OLD Sabil Pieres Carione sat as still and hunched and silent as a very old man in the middle of the narrow bed, only whimpering when his mother got up to move around.

He is one of 60,000 or so East Timorese refugees, and one of the few thousand who have suffered the most horrible privations – the villagers who lie sick for weeks with malaria and tuberculosis in a territory strange to them, and who gradually dwindle and die from a lack of food and medicine.

Sabil, his stick-thin, six-year-old brother, Fernando, and their mother, Esperanza Carione, arrived in Dili three or four days ago. They fled their homes near Liquica, 40km west of Dili, six months ago, driven away by militia violence and threats, and they wound up in Madebau, a remote village three hours by car from the nearest regional centre of Atabae.

Mrs Carione's husband died two years ago and, helpless and friendless in a strange village, she moved her six children into a school, along with many other refugee families. For a while, she eked out a precarious existence sewing rice bags, which she exchanged for food when the trucks came. But then the trucks stopped coming, nd Fernando and Sabil went down with diarrhoea and their already meagre bodies wasted to a skeletal thinness.

"In Madebau there's no food," Mrs Carione said, "so the priests and nuns come sometimes and bring us food. The refugees, they are hungry. The people who own land, they can grow food."

Sister Lourdes, a nun who has relocated from Liquica west to Atabae to help with the crowds of desperate refugees in the mountainous country, found the Carione family, plucked them from the edge of the abyss and took them to her sickhouse in Dili. But it might be too late for Sabil, whose feet are swollen with liquid and whose spine juts from his back like a row of beads.

"His life is in danger," said Dan Murphy, an American doctor who treats patients at the sickhouse. A physician with Medecins du Monde, a France-based aid group, he has been treating the East Timorese in his Dili clinic since November.

"It's very tricky when they get to that stage, but he is drinking some iquids now. You just wonder how many more there are like them, and how many have already died."

Dr Murphy estimated there were 2000 refugees in Madebau alone, and they were among the sickest and hungriest in East Timor. "The whole district is filled with terrible cases," Dr Murphy said.

The chief of the UN High Commission for Refugees in East Timor, Luis Varesy, agreed the mountains behind Liquica and Maubara were home to thousands of suffering refugees, and he said that once an assessment of the region had been made, an aid convoy would be planned.

Sister Lourdes brought a carload of the worst cases back with her every time she returned to Dili, but many were left behind, and many were frightened to leave the familiar site of their suffering, Dr Murphy explained.

"They are used to being there with other sick people, they're used to seeing people die. They're not used to getting in a car and leaving for Dili.

"Really, we should be out there in that village and doing healthcare. They (Indonesia) have got to open the door and let foreigners in to help these people. So many aid and development agencies would like to come and help," he said, adding that Indonesian bureaucratic foot-dragging had left most of them snarled in red tape.

A chronic shortage of doctors had left the second-biggest hospital in East Timor, the one in Baucau, without a surgeon. So, when a Baucau woman needed a caesarean section last week, a fairly simple procedure, she was sent to Dili, Dr Murphy said. She died on the way.

Mrs Carione is now one of the lucky ones – she is extremely happy that her children have expert medical care. For the rest, she said she had no plans to return to her home near Liquica. "I'm afraid to go back; I'm alone with the children," she said. "I'm afraid."

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