Afghanistan + 3 more

UNHCR Briefing Notes: Timor, Northern Caucasus, Afghanistan

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News and Press Release
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This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below left
Kris Janowski

1. Timor

A former militia member threw a rock at a repatriation convoy on its way from the border town of Atambua in West Timor to East Timor on Monday, smashing the glass window of one vehicle. UNHCR staff brought the incident to the attention of Indonesian military authorities in Atambua and they promised to arrest the ex-militiaman.

It was the first security incident since tensions eased in the West Timor camps following the visit of the Indonesian president late last month with a message of reconciliation between Indonesia and East Timor.

No injuries were reported during the stoning incident and 451 returnees made it safely to East Timor.

On Tuesday, 272 refugees crossed the border overland to East Timor from the border towns of Atambua and Betun. Another 503 people were to sail from Kupang in West Timor to Dili in East Timor. Those going by boat are mainly families of around 60 ex-army soldiers heading for the town of Ailieu south of Dili. They are the largest group of former soldiers to return home to East Timor.

More than 153,000 people have returned to East Timor since the UNHCR-IOM repatriation program got underway in October.

UNHCR is also seeking clarification from the Indonesian government about a statement by the welfare minister over the weekend that 10,000 people who had returned to East Timor had gone back to camps in West Timor purportedly because of difficulties they were facing.

UNHCR staff along the border area reported no such massive returns. The Indonesian border police also told UNHCR staff along the three major border crossing areas that they were unaware of such an influx from East Timor of former refugees.

In another development, Indonesian authorities began last week a census in the refugee settlements in West Timor. UNHCR is monitoring the census and hopes that the result will provide a more accurate number of the remaining East Timorese in West Timor.

2. Northern Caucasus

A new census carried out jointly by UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council shows that the number of people who have fled from Chechnya to Ingushetia is higher than originally estimated, with the number of the people fleeing Chechnya on the increase. According to the count, Ingushetia now hosts 214,000 people displaced from Chechnya, up from some 185,000 registered just two weeks ago. Over the past several days the number of people fleeing Chechnya have risen sharply. On Monday, 500 newly displaced persons arrived in Ingushetia, fleeing continued fighting in the districts of Shatoi and Urus-Martan. Today, another UNHCR convoy arrived in Ingushetia's capital Nazran bringing 15 trucks of food and medicine donated by several agencies.

3. Afghanistan

UNHCR Pakistan Tuesday announced a 5 million rupees ($100,000) special contribution to the new Afghan University in Peshawar - the only institution of its kind for Afghan refugees. The contribution will strengthen the knowledge and skills of the students and create a better environment for learning.

The new Afghan University is a unique initiative run by Afghans for Afghans. It was opened in April 1999 following the merger of five Peshawar-based Afghan colleges, and today has 1,529 students, 953 of which are male, and 576 female (38%). For Afghan refugee women, the University is one of the very few outlets that offer access to post-secondary education in Pakistan.

UNHCR spends more than 40 per cent of its total budget in Pakistan on basic education services. Over the years, it has focused on giving quality primary education with emphasis on increasing female participation. The number of refugee women and girls participating in UNHCR-funded education programmes in Pakistan has grown dramatically over the past few years, suggesting a fundamental change in refugees' attitudes. In 1999, some 116,700 students attended UNHCR-funded schools in the North West Frontier Province, Baluchistan and Punjab provinces, of whom 33 per cent were girls. Overall registration rose by 11 per cent and female enrolment went up by 36 per cent. Other indicators such as attendance, retention and performance also improved considerably during 1999.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.