etmnlong.gif (2291 bytes) spacer Worsening Conditions for East Timorese Refugees in West Timor 

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 out unharmed.

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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