Subject: AFP: Humanitarian officials air fears over refugee registration

Humanitarian officials air fears over refugee registration

DILI, East Timor, Oct 9 (AFP) - A leading UN humanitarian official on Saturday said he was concerned that Indonesian efforts to register refugees in camps in West Timor was exposing those who want to return to their homes in the East to danger and threats.

As two more planeloads of displaced people arrived in Dili Saturday, Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokesman Michel Borton voiced great concern at the way refugees still in West Timor were being treated.

"We are concerned that it appears that people who make their choice (to return to East Timor) are then issued with cards that are color-coded.

"In other words people who chose voluntary return are issued a card which is easily recognizable by people who might feel different about that option."

He said the Indonesian mode of registration of displaced people there did not measure up to the standards required by UN humanitarian agencies.

Borton said UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ross Mountain had held talks with Piet Tallo, the governor of the Indonesian province of Nusantenggara Timor which includes West Timor.

"The governor gave us assurances of full coopperation in registering people for the return," said Borton.

According to figures given to Mountain by the governor, 2,454 refugees in West Timor have so far registered for voluntary return to East Timor, and the governor had asked the United Nations to provide planes to transport them as soon as possible.

The up to 260,000 displaced people in West Timor have been offered four choices -- voluntary return to East Timor, a temporary stay in NTT, permanent stay in NTT or migration to other parts of Indonesia.

Borton and other humanitarian workers here again expressed concern on Saturday at their lack of access to more than 200 camps in the frontier town of Atambua and other border regions.

He said the UNHCR had limited access to some areas and the ICRC (International Committee of the red Cross) had had slightly more access as it was working through the Indonesian Red Cross.

He said the United Nations would deal with all displaced people whatever their poltical persuasion.

"These are all victims of a single crisis," he said.

There has been some disquiet among aid agencies and some sectors of the military in Dili that suspected militia members may return to East Timor as displaced people.

The UNHCR says it has stringent qualification and checking procedures to vet all returnees.

Members of the Interfet multinational force for East Timor were taking no chances when displaced people got off flights from Kupang on Friday and Saturday, searching all passengers, even small children and babies and using hand-held metal detectors.

UNHCR official Jacques Franquin said Saturday that the agency hoped to soon start using boats to ferry more refugees from West Timor.

Two flights carrying a total of 195 people arrived in Dili on Saturday and the refugees joined the 173 people from West Timorese camps staying at the Dili sports stadium, before returning to their homes.

All of those flown from West Timor so far are from Dili or surrounding regions.

Franquin also said the UNHCR was conducting its own registration of refugees and would not rely solely on the Indonesian registration drive as the UNHCR requires confidentiality to ensure that refugees have not been pressured into any decision.


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