IDPs returning home, but to ongoing poverty and lack of access to basic services

A profile of the internal displacement situation
31 October, 2008

A profile of the internal displacement situation
31 October, 2008

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
Norwegian Refugee Council
Chemin de Balexert 7-9
1219 Geneva, Switzerland
Tel.: +41 22 799 07 00
idmc@nrc.ch
http://www.internal-displacement.org

OVERVIEW

IDPs returning home, but to ongoing poverty and lack of access to basic services

Two years after violent conflict erupted in Dili in May 2006, some of the 100,000 people who remained displaced in April 2008 have started returning home. About a third of these internally displaced people (IDPs) were in camps in the capital, and the rest with relatives and friends in the districts where they had sought refuge after the violence. However, perhaps 40,000 people have been unable to return, while others have struggled to rebuild their lives in return areas or transitional sites.

At the end of 2007, the government launched a new strategy to address the IDP issue within a broader national recovery programme. Hamutuk Hari’i Futuru (Together Building the Future) aims to get people back to their homes and help them reintegrate, while addressing the needs and rights of the wider community. While taking steps to close camps, the government in April 2008 started distributing recovery packages to IDPs willing to return. 16,000 families registered to take part, and more than half received the recovery package in the first six months, leaving between 35,000 and 40,000 people still displaced as of October 2008. According to government data, the overwhelming majority of the returnees have managed to retrieve their homes and property. When this was not possible, because people who had moved in claimed the house to be theirs or asked for compensation before leaving, discussion and negotiation have reportedly solved most problems.

Many difficulties have also been reported, however. Threats against returnees have led to cases of re-displacement. People in areas of return still have little access either to food and basic services such as potable water, sanitation or health care, or to livelihood and income-generating opportunities. Many of the issues that contributed to the 2006 violence, such as the tensions between easterners and westerners, the factionalised security forces and the land and property ownership disputes, remain to be addressed by a recovery strategy that remains poorly funded.

Despite the active support of the international community, the government’s overall capacity to implement the strategy remains weak. Of particular concern is the absence of effective early recovery programmes and the state’s limited capacity to monitor and address the protection concerns of both returnees and the wider population. Widespread impunity and lack of accountability continue also to be encouraged by a government ready to undermine the rule of law and the credibility of the judicial system in the name of reconciliation.

Background

In Timor-Leste the majority of the population of just under one million has experienced violent forced displacement. In 1974, Portugal’s withdrawal from its south-east Asian colony was preceded by a short civil war in which thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands displaced. During Indonesia’s occupation of the new state of Timor-Leste from 1975, there were large-scale displacements as people fled or were resettled as the Indonesian army sought to control the territory and crush the FRETILIN rebel movement. From 1975 to 1999, between 84,000 and 183,000 more people than the peacetime baseline died due to hunger and illness, and almost all east Timorese experienced at least one period of displacement (CAVR, Chapter 7.3, 30 January 2006, pp.143-144).

Following a UN-sponsored agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the United States, a referendum was held in 1999 to determine whether the country would remain as a Special Autonomous Region of Indonesia or become an independent state. In the months prior to the referendum, an estimated 60,000 people were displaced from their villages to urban centres by a campaign of violent intimidation conducted by pro-integrationist militias supported by the Indonesian army. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of the population voted in favour of independence from Indonesia. Following the announcement of the result, further intense violence and widespread human rights abuses by the militias led to the destruction of much of Timor-Leste’s infrastructure and housing stock, the collapse of the economy and state institutions, and the forced displacement of the majority of the population. 500,000 people sought refuge within Timor-Leste, while 240,000 crossed the border to West Timor where tens of thousands still remained in 2007 (Inside Indonesia, December 2007; ICG, 4 May 2006, p.2). After three years under UN administration, Timor-Leste was declared independent on 20 May 2002.

Displacement following internal conflict in 2006

In April 2006, violent internal conflict erupted after sections of Timor-Leste’s army, later known as “the petitioners”, rose up in response to alleged regional-based discrimination by officers originating from eastern areas of Timor-Leste. In May armed clashes became widespread between groups of easterners and westerners within the army and police and among the wider population. Youth gangs armed with machetes, slings and bows rampaged through Dili threatening and attacking easterners and their properties. 37 people were killed, around 3,000 houses were destroyed and over 2,000 severely damaged, and an estimated 150,000 people, mainly easterners, fled their homes (OCHA, 17 July 2007, p.7). Approximately half of the displaced sought refuge within the capital, mainly in government buildings, schools or churches, and subsequently in over 50 makeshift camps, while the other half fled eastwards to their districts of origin, to be accommodated by families and friends.

The crisis resulted from several factors, including weak and factionalised state institutions, political rivalries dating back to the independence struggle, extreme poverty, and a large and disempowered youth population. Although there was no history of violence between easterners and westerners, and regional identities were probably manipulated for political ends, there were real and perceived differences in the roles played by each group in the independence struggle. Easterners who constituted the bulk of the surviving resistance also gained the best access from 2002 to institutions and resources, mainly through the FRETILIN party. Unresolved land and housing disputes also helped fuel the violence; in the wake of the large-scale displacements that occurred before and after the 1999 independence vote, many returning easterners occupied land and houses left vacant by those who had relocated to West Timor and only gradually returned in the following years (AusAID, 15 September 2006, p.3).

By August 2006, the Australian-led military force had stabilised the security situation and a number of internally displaced people (IDPs) started returning. However, these initial returns mainly involved IDPs without significant housing and protection problems, and return rates soon slowed considerably. During 2007, further sporadic violence prevented the return of the majority of the displaced and even led to further displacement. The introduction of the new government in August 2007 triggered renewed violence in the eastern districts which led to the displacement of an estimated 4,000 people in Viqueque and Baucau (OCHA, 29 August 2007).

By April 2008, around 100,000 people remained displaced, a third in camps, mainly in Dili, and the remainder with host families, mostly in the rural districts (OCHA, 18 April 2008, p.5). They were unable or unwilling to return due to the volatile security situation, their lack of confidence in the judicial system and the reconciliation process, the lack of progress in rebuilding destroyed or damaged houses, and the failure to resolve land and property ownership issues. The lack of livelihood opportunities in the context of rising food prices had also encouraged many IDPs to stay in camps in Dili where humanitarian assistance was available.

National recovery strategy encourages substantial returns

In December 2007, the government launched a new strategy (Hamutuk Hari’I Futuru -Together Building the Future) to overcome the 2006 crisis by addressing the displacement issue within a more comprehensive approach. The strategy rests on five pillars: shelter and housing, social protection, security and stability, socio-economic development, and confidence building and reconciliation. A stated objective of the strategy is to help remove the obstacles preventing the return of the displaced and ultimately assist them in finding durable solutions (Government of T-L, 19 December 2007).

The strategy does recognise the range of solutions which IDPs may envisage. Those willing and able to return home can receive a cash recovery grant based on the extent of damage to their property and up to a maximum of $4,500, or a basic house plus $1,500 should their own have been damaged beyond repair. Those unable or unwilling to return can either use the cash recovery grant to build a house on state-owned land, or they can choose to settle in a basic house on a resettlement site. Temporary relocation to a transitional shelter site is offered to those willing but unable to return immediately (OCHA, 18 April 2008, p.34). By October 2008, the resettlement option had not been implemented, and in practice IDPs could only choose between returning home and moving to a transitional site.

The strategy initially ignored displaced people who had been tenants in the house they were living in, but had had their property looted during 2006 (ICG, 31 March 2008, p.13). Members of this group, which reportedly constituted the majority of people displaced, were later offered a $200 “reintegration package” to convince them to leave the camps (MSS, 18 June 2008).

The strategy, combined with a halving of food rations distributed in camps from February 2008, proved immediately effective in encouraging people to leave the camps: 28 camps in Dili closed by October 2008. By October, around 9,000 out of 16,000 registered families had accepted the recovery package (OCHA & UNMIT, 30 October 2008, p.3). According to government data, some 90 per cent of those who have received the recovery package have been able to return to their original homes (IRIN, 22 September 2008). Preliminary data collected by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) showed lower return rates, with 70 per cent of families returning to their homes and 17 per cent to relatives. Only 60 per cent of homes were described as in good condition (OCHA & UNMIT, 15 October 2008, p.4).

For those unable to return, 667 transitional shelters have been built on seven sites by NRC and the government since 2006. The houses are basic but offer much better conditions than camps with electricity, cooking facilities, latrines and tap stands. As of October 2008, the shelters had an 88 per cent occupancy rate accommodating a total of 3,125 people (OCHA & UNMIT, 1 October 2008, p.3). Many IDPs have been initially reluctant to move to these sites, sometimes located outside of the city, with some afraid of getting stuck there and choosing instead to accept the compensation package and move into makeshift tents.

Unresolved issues raise concerns over sustainability of returns

While most returns appear to have been successful, there are concerns over the conditions in which they have taken place and their long-term sustainability. The lack of monitoring activities during the early phase of returns also means that there is not enough information on the access of returning IDPs to basic services or protection.

There is no legal framework in place to address land and property disputes. During the 2006 unrest, the destruction of homes and businesses mainly affected people from the east, many of whom had migrated to Dili after 1999. The attackers saw the opportunity to reclaim what they considered as their property or grab new property. Now most IDPs are returning to their homes without any formal mechanism in place for property restitution and compensation and without an effective land and property law to determine ownership.

Many of the IDPs’ houses have been occupied by squatters. While some have refused to hand over the houses to their owners, most appear to have agreed to do so but only in exchange for some compensation. Having made improvements to the house or kept it in good condition, the squatters see themselves as entitled to some money, a solution which many returnees reportedly accept (ABC, 22 September 2008). Given the critical housing stock shortage, many of these secondary occupants now risk becoming homeless themselves.

In a country where 40 per cent of the population live on less than 55 cents a day, the return of displaced people to their homes with money or other benefits has inevitably led to social tensions and feelings of jealousy. Six months after receiving materials to rebuild their damaged homes, a hundred families in Viqueque district still refused to use them out of fear that it would anger other families in the area who had not received any assistance (OCHA & UNMIT, 30 June 2008, p.6). In July and August, two houses were burnt in an incident between returnees and the community in Uraho, Ermera district (OCHA & UNMIT, 20 August 2008, p.5). In June, IDPs returning from Jardim and Arte Moris camp were threatened upon return and re-displaced (OCHA & UNMIT, 16 June 2008, p.2). The arrival of IDPs in some transitional shelters has also led to tensions with neighbouring communities (ICG, 31 March 2008, p.5).

Since July 2008, UNDP/MSS dialogue teams have been mediating between returning IDPs and their receiving communities to help resolve these tensions (MSS, 9 October 2008). According to NRC however, this dialogue has focused on the delivery of information about the current government policy, rather than the issues which were behind the violence of 2006, such as land and property ownership disputes. Also, although the government planned for pre-return dialogue with all parties involved, in the rush to resolve the IDP situation this is not taking place in any significant way (NRC, September 2008). Communities in return areas have often complained about insufficient preparatory work by the government and the lack of information given to them prior to the return of the displaced (OCHA & UNMIT, 30 June 2008, p.5).

Almost immediately after the return process started, international humanitarian agencies concerned about the pace of the process, the insufficient preparation and the lack of return monitoring urged the government to slow down the returns (HCC, 6 May 2008, p.2). In June, with the government still prioritising the closure of camps despite reports of significant protection concerns for returning IDPs, the inter-agency Protection Working Group (PWG) proposed a rapid assessment of return conditions. The assessment was to provide more information on the extent to which IDPs returning have sufficient access to basic services such as water and sanitation and on protection issues they may be facing upon return. The PWG decided that the rapid assessment was not needed since IOM was planning a larger post-return monitoring project. The 11-month long project, supported by NGOs such as CARE, CRS, JRS and Belun, started in July but it is reportedly lacking a specific IDP protection angle since it is more focused on community’s access to basic services. The findings of IOM’s monitoring project were first made available at the end of October, more than six months after the return process started (IOM, 28 October 2008).

More groundwork is also needed to ensure that material conditions are conducive to sustainable return. Inadequate access to water and sanitation in areas of return has been reported as a major concern in areas of return both in Dili and in the districts (OCHA & UNMIT, 30 June 2008, p.5). It is also unknown how the returnees used their recovery package and what will happen once the money is used up. With unemployment rates rising and little economic opportunities available outside of Dili, there are concerns that the recovery package will be used on immediate needs such as food (after the two-month rice ration is exhausted) or on consumer goods such as fridges, TVs or motorcycle, instead of on long-term investments on homes or livelihoods. Some returnees in the districts reported having to use some of the cash from their recovery package to buy food (OCHA & UNMIT, 30 June 2008, p.2).

With more IDPs expected to need alternative solutions to return, the shortage of available sites is becoming a problem (OCHA & UNMIT, 23 July 2008, p.5). Identifying land for all types of social housing will remain difficult given Dili’s booming population and the existing housing stock deficit. One idea proposed by NRC is to build transitional shelters that can be later transformed into permanent basic housing. These “Transformable Transitional Shelters” would not be limited to IDPs but would also be available for other groups in need of secure housing (HCC, 7 October 2008, p.3).

Thus there are reasons to be prudent despite the encouraging initial caseload of IDP returns. The high return rate may be partly explained by the fact that those who returned first were also likely to be the ones who expected to face the fewest obstacles. The return and reintegration of the remaining IDPs may therefore prove to be more difficult. Also, many of the underlying causes and social factors which exacerbated the 2006 civil unrest such as land and property disputes, the regional divisions, the lack of economic opportunities as well as weak state institutions are simply not addressed by the national recovery strategy, the funding of which also remains highly uncertain. These issues may remain outstanding until violence breaks out and creates displacement again. In October 2008, fears of political instability driven by east-west divisions were fuelled by rumours of power struggles within the police force and by dissatisfaction among eastern officers of the defense force about the investigation of the 2006 crisis. As a result, some IDPs in camps were reportedly reconsidering their return plans (HCC, 3 October 2008, p.2).

Humanitarian issues

Widespread food insecurity

The 2006 unrest had a significant negative impact on Timor-Leste’s already fragile economy and further constrained people’s already limited capacity to meet their basic needs such as access to food, potable water, adequate sanitation, health care, livelihood opportunities and education. Prior to the crisis, Timor-Leste was already the poorest nation in Asia, ranking 142nd of 177 countries in the 2006 Human Development Index. In 2008, the country dropped to 150th position (UNDP, 2008).

Many businesses, markets and government offices closed down during 2006 and the violence led to widespread supply disruptions. Commerce recovered slowly but continued to be hampered by higher transaction costs and above all by lower purchasing power. During 2007, rice shortages and a poor harvest led to a sharp increase in food prices and made the country increasingly reliant on imports. In March 2008, the consumer price index (CPI) had increased by almost 20 per cent since 2006 , with higher food and fuel prices accounting for most of the increase. The price of Thai rice, which represents 13 per cent of the consumption basket, went up by 200 per cent during the first months of 2008, forcing the government to import more rice for resale to control domestic inflation.

Poor and unemployed people in urban areas were most affected by the inflation, with significant differences in prices noted between Dili and the districts (UN T-L, 27 August 2008, p.2). The cost of building materials sharply increased during 2008, due to inflationary pressure increased by the distribution of recovery packages for reconstruction.

Limited access to arable land and vulnerability to floods and other natural disasters have also threatened food security (USAID 30 September 2008). In a report released in October 2008, Oxfam estimated that 70 per cent of the population were moderately to severely food insecure, with Covalima and Oecusse Districts particularly affected (Oxfam, 16 October 2008, p.4). In September 2008, WFP warned of increasing rates of malnutrition which it considered already at unacceptable levels with half of the children under five chronically malnourished, 46 per cent underweight and 12 percent wasted (WFP, 12 September 2008, p.5)

In this context of widespread food insecurity, displaced people living in camps were not found to be among the most vulnerable. A WFP assessment conducted in Dili in September 2007 showed that almost half of the population was food insecure with a quarter facing health risks linked to a deterioration of their nutrition. IDPs were not particularly worse off than the general population. On this basis, WFP recommended that free food distributions in camps be stopped, with assistance provided instead to IDPs returning home to repair their houses. Cash or food for work and livelihood activities were recommended for the most food insecure groups (WFP, September 2007, p.3). Accordingly, WFP halved the food ration to IDPs in camps in February 2008, and terminated it two months later. So far, however, none of the recommended food for work schemes, livelihood activities or social safety nets have been implemented in any large-scale manner that would counterbalance the termination of food distribution or deal with food insecurity (NRC, October 2008).

In the districts, food security has further deteriorated in the past two years as poor harvests followed adverse weather conditions (Oxfam, 16 October 2008, p.15; FAO/WFP, 21 June 2007, p.4). With most international assistance targeting IDPs in Dili and a very limited humanitarian presence in the districts, little has been done to support the capacity of the host population to assist the displaced people. The limited access to these areas and the fact that most IDPs are staying with friends and relatives makes any assessment of their needs more difficult. With no free food distribution available to the displaced and particularly high levels of food insecurity, access to food was reported as difficult and cited as a major concern by IDPs and host communities (OCHA/UNMIT, 2 June 2008, p.6). Some expressed concern that their reliance on cheaper food products were negatively impacting their children’s nutritional status (OCHA/UNMIT, 30 June 2008, p.2). In October 2008, WFP helped to increase the country’s capacity to manage food shortages by refurbishing two food warehouses and starting to build a third. Of the three warehouses, one is in Dili and the two others are in the districts where food is more difficult to transport due to poor roads (IRIN, 16 October 2008).

The government decided in early 2008 to grant large tracts of the country’s scarce agricultural land to foreign biofuel companies, eliciting sharp criticisms from NGO representatives and members of the parliamentary opposition who denounced the move as part of a larger effort to privatise land which will likely undermine the country’s food security (Tim Anderson, 15 September 2008).

Remaining IDPs in camps require continuing support

As of October 2008, 21 camps remain open in Dili, hosting an estimated 23,000 people. The main protection concerns relate to water and sanitation, health, and other challenges created by the sustained presence of such a large displaced population in crowded makeshift camps which often lack the space for sanitation infrastructure. Although the conditions in the camps have improved significantly since 2006 and major disease outbreaks have been avoided, residents continue to be vulnerable to flooding and diseases such as malaria, respiratory and skin infections.

In May 2008, the inter-agency Water and Sanitation Working Group identified the IDP camps at Hera Port, the National Hospital, the Jardim and the Airport as requiring urgent closure (OCHA/UNMIT, 9 May 2008, p.2). By mid-October, all of them had been closed. Most of the IDPs still in camps were likely to require emergency shelter at least until the end of the year. As of October it was not clear if the government would replace the tents for IDPs remaining in the camps, a move the humanitarian community was arguing for in anticipation of the rainy season (OCHA/UNMIT, 15 October 2006, p.2).

While some improvements have already been made to the remaining camps, assessments are still ongoing to better determine the needs of residents. The largest camp, at Metinaro 25 kilometres east of Dili, has been identified as one of the most vulnerable to flooding and landslides, increasing the risk of health problems for the estimated 10,000 residents (IRIN, 10 October 2008).

Protection issues facing displaced children and women

There are serious protection concerns for displaced women and children, who are exposed to a variety of protection risks due to physical and sexual violence in the overcrowded camps, and also outside the camps (Plan, June 2008, p.111; UNICEF, 5 July 2007). A sharp increase in the number of cases of gender-based violence (GBV) was reported in Timor-Leste during 2007, and only a minority of these cases has been investigated by the police. Most GBV cases have reportedly been solved through traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, the decisions of which are reportedly not always enforced (UNMIT, 21 August 2008, p.10).

Child abuse involving sexual, physical and psychological violence is also reported as a serious problem (UNMIT, 8 November 2007, p.14). Also of particular concern is the issue of access to education, in particular for displaced children in camps, many of whom have avoided schools in areas of displacement because they didn’t feel safe. Although there are several organisations focusing on emergency child protection issues, the government’s failure to address the inadequacies of the education system remains a main long-term protection concern (OCHA, 18 April 2008, p.30; NRC, 3 September 2007). For those returning, agencies have expressed concern about the lack of psycho-social assistance available in areas of return (OCHA & UNMIT, September 2008, p.4).

National response

The government’s initial strategy to deal with the displacement crisis rested on the assumption that all IDPs would return once the security situation had stabilised. The response therefore mainly focused on meeting the immediate humanitarian needs of the displaced, mainly in camps, while starting a community dialogue programme known as Simu Malu to restore security and trust between communities. However the response proved inadequate and ineffective (OCHA, 16 January 2007, p.8). By the end of 2006 it became clear that returns were not taking place as expected despite threats by the government to cut off assistance (Kammen/Hayati, March 2007, p.2). Acknowledging that more efforts were needed to assist IDPs to return or relocate, a comprehensive assistance package consisting of food, shelter, construction materials and transport was offered to IDPs agreeing to leave the camps (MTRC, 24 November 2006, pp.1-3). By July 2007 however, only 4,800 IDPs had taken advantage of government assistance to move out of the camps (MTRC, 17 July 2007).

The failure of the government to convince the IDPs to return is explained both by its lack of institutional and operational capacity to properly implement its return and reintegration strategy, and also by displaced people’s lack of faith in the government’s ability or willingness to address the underlying causes of the 2006 unrest. Many IDPs were unwilling to return in an environment of persistent instability and impunity in which the renegade leader of the “petitioners” Major Reinado, seen by many IDPs as the cause of their displacement, was still free after mysteriously walking out of prison in August 2006 (ICG, 31 March 2008, p.7; BBC, 31 August 2006). Reinado’s death in February 2008, during an attack against both Prime Minister Horta and President Gusmao, left many questions unanswered but did certainly help to make conditions more conducive to the return of the displaced (Reuters, 13 August 2008; John Martinkus, 15 February 2008; BBC, 11 February 2008).

Since 2008, the government has started implementing the national recovery strategy, Hamutuk Hari’I Futuru. The strategy aims to address the challenges of reconstruction and recovery with a particular focus on the solving of the displacement crisis. The plan’s main weakness is the lack of funding for implementation. The government has committed a total of $15 million in 2008 to address the needs of IDPs, but this is far from sufficient to cover the cost of even the first pillar on housing, let alone the four others. That international donors are expected to complement missing funds leaves much of the strategy up in the air (ICG, 31 March 2008, p.13). Ten months into the programme, only two pillars, on housing and confidence building, are functioning (HCC, 3 October 2008, p.1).

While most of the secondary occupancy disputes in the current return process have reportedly been resolved on a case-by-case basis through dialogue and negotiation, the absence of a legal and regulatory framework governing land and property ownership continues to cause uncertainties over property rights and prevent the resolution of land and property disputes. Establishing a comprehensive land register, a clear titling system and a functional dispute settlement mechanism in a country where most land is unregistered and governed by customary law will be a complex and daunting challenge that the government must meet if it is to enable durable solutions for the displaced population.

Responsibility for the monitoring and protection of the displaced lies with the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and Justice (the Provedor), which has been operational since March 2006 but remains of very limited capacity. In 2007, the Provedor scaled down IDP monitoring activities which it was conducting with assistance from UNMIT and the Human Rights Monitoring Network (RMDH), a network of Timorese NGOs, due to lack of funds (OCHA, 17 August 2007, p.2). Budgetary constraints prevented the opening of offices outside of Dili and only in June 2008 was the IDP cell re-activated (UNMIT, 21 August 2008, p.15). Overall, the capacity of state institutions to provide protection services to IDPs or the general population remained extremely limited (OCHA, 18 April 2008, p.30).

Widespread impunity and lack of accountability must be addressed as a matter of priority if the government’s credibility is to be restored in the eyes of both the international community and citizens, in particular those victims of the 2006 unrest. Those responsible for burning the houses, looting the properties and forcing people out of their homes must be prosecuted if the displaced are to put their trust in the return and reintegration process. There are reasons to believe that this will not be easily achieved. Following the February 2008 attack, a three-month “state of siege” was declared during which the number of reports of ill-treatment and human right violations against civilians by security forces increased significantly. Although those responsible for the violations were identified, none were brought to justice (UNMIT, 21 August 2008, p.3). In July 2008, 94 prisoners received a presidential pardon, including former Interior Minister Rogerio Lobato who had been sentenced in 2007 to seven years for distributing arms to civilians in 2006. This was widely criticised by church officials and human right activists who said this move was undermining the rule of law and further weakening people’s faith in the justice system (ABC, 8 September 2008). On 13 October 2008, President Ramos-Horta asked the UN to drop its investigation into the 1999 violence, in order to maintain good relations with Indonesia (Reuters, 13 October 2008).

International response

The immediate response of the international community to the civil unrest of May 2006 was the mobilisation of a 3,000-strong military and police force led by Australia. This was followed by the establishment in August of the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) with a broad mandate to provide support in the humanitarian, security, political and development sectors. UNMIT’s mandate has already been renewed twice and is due to run until at least February 2009.

From 2006 to 2008, the UN launched two successive Consolidated Appeal Processes (CAPs) requesting a total of $58 million to address the humanitarian needs of IDPs and the vulnerable population and to help them find durable solutions through return, resettlement or reintegration (OCHA, 17 July 2007, p.1). Donors funded two-thirds of the CAP in 2007, but critical sectors such as health care, water and sanitation, protection and human rights, and economic recovery remain largely underfunded (OCHA, 20 October 2008). While re-affirming its commitment to continue providing emergency assistance to IDPs in camps, the Transitional Strategy and Appeal (TSA) launched by the international community in March 2008 also offered strong support to the government’s recovery strategy, recognising that early recovery initiatives were needed if the displaced were ever to return home. Seven months after its launch, 59 per cent of the $28 million requested had been funded, with economic recovery, protection and health care largely underfunded. In the past two years, Australia, the US, the European Commission and Japan have been the main humanitarian donors, accounting for 63 per cent of all contributions.

The Humanitarian Coordination Committee (HCC), established in September 2007 and chaired by the Humanitarian Coordinator/Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, is the main forum to discuss humanitarian issues and elaborate policies. Coordination of the protection response to the IDP situation takes place in the inter-agency Protection Working Group (PWG) chaired by the Minister of Social Solidarity (MSS) together with UNICEF. Since the departure of UNHCR in July 2007, the lead on the protection sector has been shared between UNMIT’s Human Rights Unit and UNICEF. It remains unclear who will take the lead after the departure of UNICEF’s IDP adviser at the end of October 2008.

The existing coordination structures informally follow the cluster leadership arrangements, and discussions were ongoing in October 2008 about a possible rolling out of the cluster approach in Timor-Leste. While the cluster approach would certainly help increase the humanitarian actors’ capacity to identify and fill gaps within sectors and strengthen sector leadership, it is however unlikely to address challenges linked to working with the government, nor shall it resolve problems of government’s lack of accountability and poor coordination and implementing capacity. In the context of a transition between emergency humanitarian assistance and early recovery, where the government is now expected to take increasing responsibilities, coordination structures will become more dependent on national institutions (OCHA, 18 April 2008, p. 21). Strengthening these as well as local capacity should therefore be a priority of the international community.

In parallel to its humanitarian plan, the international community is also involved in an International Compact recovery and development programme, which provides a common platform for coordinating international assistance in key areas such as the public and security sector reform, justice, governance, the rule of law, youth employment and human resource development. In March 2008, a development partners meeting was held in Dili during which the government officially launched the Compact and its national priorities for 2008, including: public safety and security; social protection and solidarity; youth needs; employment; social service delivery and governance (UNSC, 29 July 2008, p.11). The UN and the World Bank are actively supporting the monitoring of progress towards these objectives.

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