Timor-Leste: unfulfilled protection and assistance needs hamper the return of the displaced

07 Sep 2007 15:00:00 GMT

Source: IDMC

More than a year after riots and fighting rocked Timor-Leste and sent over 150,000 people to seek refuge, the majority of the internally displaced people (IDPs) are still unable or unwilling to return, and remain in camps in and around the capital, Dili, or hosted by friends and families in Dili and in the districts. An Australian-led international force has since June 2006 restored law and order, but the security situation has remained unstable, with sporadic violence causing further displacement and hampering return. The announcement of the formation of the new government on 6 August 2007 triggered civil unrest, mainly in eastern districts traditionally loyal to the former ruling party FRETILIN, which resulted in the displacement of more than 4,000 people.

It is estimated that 100,000 people remain displaced in the country, with approximately 30,000 living in camps in Dili and 70,000 living in the rural districts, mainly with host families. Urgent problems for camp inhabitants involve a wide range of protection issues, including lack of access to healthcare, lack of adequate water and sanitation, but, while most of the assistance has focused on Dili, people are most vulnerable in the eastern districts, where the influx of displaced people has placed great strain on the very limited resources available to host communities. The overall deterioration of the general food situation, mainly due to adverse weather conditions and a locust outbreak, has further reduced the capacity of the host population to provide food. Most IDPs who had the chance to return home have already done so; for the remaining majority, return will largely depend on the effectiveness of reconstruction and reconciliation processes as well as significant improvements in the political, economic and security environment.

The government’s return and reintegration strategy has so far proved largely unsuccessful. The extreme shortage of housing and shelter means that widespread land and property disputes must be comprehensively addressed by the government if durable solutions are to be found for the people displaced. In light of the government’s limited capacity, in particular with regards to the monitoring and protection of human rights of vulnerable groups such as IDPs, the international community has the responsibility to assist the government. However, the departure of UNHCR because of lack of funds in July 2007 is raising concern that protection issues might not get the attention they deserve.

Read full Report on Internal Displacement in Timor-Leste

Jens-Hagen Eschenbächer
Head of Monitoring and Advocacy Department
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
Norwegian Refugee Council
Chemin de Balexert 7-9
CH-1219 Châtelaine (Geneva)
Tel.: +41 (22) 799 07 03
Fax +41 (22) 799 07 01


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