Worsening Conditions for East Timorese Refugees in West
A Chronology May-July 2000
May 11: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) reports that "The repatriation movement has ground to a halt
in recent weeks, with only several hundred returning overland across the
border since Easter... On Friday, East Timorese opposing repatriation
stoned a UNHCR-IOM team attempting to pick up around 100 returnees at a
Kupang camp, damaging a vehicle. The International Organisation for
Migration (IOM) reports that "The relatively small numbers of
returnees reflect continuing unease in the West Timor refugee camps about
the safety of latecomers, together with the ongoing negative coverage of
conditions in East Timor by the West Timorese media."
Mid-May: Floods ravage the Betun area of West Timor, 126 are
confirmed dead, half of the casualties are believed to be East Timorese
refugees. The three major refugee camps around Betun were wiped out during
catastrophic flash floods on the night of May 17. More than 35,000, mostly
refugees, are displaced.
May 30: East Timorese refugees and local residents in the
Tuapukan area of West Timor battle with sticks, stones and knives over
three days, preventing UNHCR staff from operating in the camp just outside
Kupang. Nine houses are burned.
June 5: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata in a
meeting with Portuguese President Sampaio in Geneva says Indonesia should
not only keep the militia groups from the refugee camps but see that they
were removed from West Timor itself.
June 8: The Governor of Indonesian West Timor, Piet Tallo,
visiting East Timor calls for the repatriation of all remaining East
Timorese refugees, saying the economic burden was too much to bear.
June 20: The UNHCR suspends its operations at the Noelbaki,
Tuapukan and Naibonat camps near Kupang following a series of violent
incidents. The previous Friday, an ex-militia member bearing a machete
climbed aboard a truck repatriating refugees from the town of Betun and
intimidated one refugee. A group gathered to block the vehicle and
military escorts did little to intervene. The same day at Noelbaki, nine
refugees commandeered a UNHCR truck and forced the driver to take them to
Kupang. Agency staff were threatened and prevented from leaving by an
uncontrolled mob of 60-70 people.
June 23: UNHCR reports that it has asked Indonesian officials to
put in place concrete measures to ensure the security of their staff and
other relief workers before they will resume work in the three Kupang area
camps. Meanwhile, some 180 East Timorese refugees left the West Timor port
of Kupang for Dili in East Timor in the first repatriation movement by
boat in more than a month.
June 27: IOM reports they and other international staff have not
yet returned to the three camps. Refugees wanting to leave the camps for
East Timor have to make their own way to the Fatululi processing center,
some 25 kilometers away, to register for repatriation. The number of
refugees returning to East Timor remains relatively low.
July 1: Militia and East Timorese ex-military from the Tuapukan
camp attack Oesao injuring 12, looting and burning 16 houses, destroying
rice, and burning six cows alive.
July 4: Angry over a spate of recent attacks, hundreds of
villagers blockade the main highway from Kupang to Soe and Atambua
demanding that thousands of East Timorese refugees be sent home. IOM said
the villagers accused the refugees - many of them pro-Indonesian
militiamen - of attacking them and inciting violence. Local residents
welded metal bars across a steel bridge to stop all traffic. The alternate
route is also closed by barricades erected overnight by local residents.
The previous weekend fighting erupted in Tuapukan between East Timorese
refugees and local residents, blocking the main Kupang-Soe road and
cutting off access to the camp. Two IOM international staff, temporarily
trapped on the wrong side of the barricades, were eventually escorted to
Kupang by the Indonesian military.
July 5: UNHCR said aid workers resume relief activities at the
refugee camps in West Timor's Kupang area after a two week suspension
following assaults on UNHCR staff and refugees. During a four-hour meeting
the previous Monday, the provincial governor announced acceptance of
UNHCR's proposals to secure workers and refugees against pro-Indonesian
elements opposing repatriation to East Timor.
July 6: At a meeting of UNHCR's standing committee in Geneva,
François Fouinat, UNHCR's Director of the Bureau for Asia and the
Pacific, emphasizes that the current situation in the Kupang camps could
have been avoided had Indonesian authorities taken determined action to
pursue the commitments made to UNHCR last year - put order in the camps,
separate trouble makers and clarify the status of former soldiers, police
and civil servants.
July 7: IOM suspends return operations from Kupang area as the
situation continues to be very tense. The registration process of East
Timorese refugees scheduled for this week is also delayed due to fighting
between local people and East Timorese refugees in Oesau. The fighting
blocked the main road to Soe, Kefa and Atambua, stopping IOM from
transporting 330 registration personnel to registration sites throughout
West Timor. The main road remains closed and refugees have also set up
their own roadblocks.
July 11: UNHCR delays for at least 24 hours the registration of East
Timorese refugees in four border districts of West Timor. Registration had
been set for Wednesday in Atambua, Kefamenanu, Betun and Soe. No
registration was scheduled for the main Kupang camps, which host
one-quarter of the over 100,000 East Timorese refugees in West Timor,
because of the volatile security situation there. In Betun, drivers
refused to move out of the UNHCR compound after they received threats from
refugee elements opposing registration. In two encampments in Atambua,
refugees refused to allow UNHCR staff to prepare for the registration. An
angry crowd surrounded the staff there and required police to escort them
July 13: UNHCR calls off the registration program after
pro-Indonesian ex-militias threatened and stoned workers in four
incidents, injuring one and damaging offices and vehicles. Soldiers had to
fire shots in the air to extricate staff in two camps. UNHCR was forced to
recall 750 workers, including 300 students, mobilized to carry out the
registration in 50 encampments along the West Timor border.
July 14: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Sadako Ogata denounces the continuing violence in the East Timorese
refugee camps, saying the Indonesian government's failure to live up to
its commitments may force UNHCR to review its operations in West Timor.
"I am appalled and dismayed that small groups of thugs are able to
carry out with impunity a campaign of intimidation in the camps . I cannot
remain silent while Indonesian authorities wantonly disregard the safety
of humanitarian workers and refugees," she says in a statement.
Prepared by East Timor Action Network/U.S. Media and Outreach Office
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