Indonesia + 1 more

Catholic Relief Services' Response to East Timor and Indonesia Crisis: Update March 2000

Catholic Relief Services continues to assist refugees living in West Timor, Indonesian camps as well as those in East Timor. Despite the constant level of insecurity throughout the island more than 133,000 people have been able to return to their homes.
Who is CRS Reaching?

Throughout Belu and Kupang, Catholic Relief Services, in coordination with local partners, has reached nearly 57,000 over the past five months. Continuous distribution includes items such as rice, beans, sugar, salt and vegetable oil. Other items included soap, blankets and plastic sheeting for shelter.

For more specific health related assistance, Catholic Relief Services and its local partner, Yapenskak, are reaching 1,500 children under the age of 5 years and pregnant women/lactating mothers with supplementary feeding programs. In addition, two other mobile units are working with 500 children in smaller camp locations. The feeding centers operate six days a week and provide one feeding per day.

Ongoing Activities

The agency's biggest challenge in East Timor is to assist the local partners in building up their capacities so they can resume critical development activities. Catholic Relief Services' partners suffered serious losses - their offices were destroyed, vehicles were stolen or destroyed, their bank accounts were frozen, and their staff fled during the mayhem. The future of East Timor rests with these local organizations. Catholic Relief Services is committed to assisting the Timorese organizations so that they will resume their position as primary providers of East Timor's development assistance.

However, there are still thousands of refugees in West Timor, many of whom want to reunite with their families in East Timor. Catholic Relief Services is assisting to provide humanitarian relief including water, shelter and basic social services to refugees in the West Timor camps.

The agency faces another challenge, to correctly inform and assist refugees who wish to return to East Timor. The current situation of remaining refugees in West Timor poses a human resources problem for East Timor, but it also creates a significant strain on West Timor. There is a growing local problem from the influx of foreign aid and assistance to the camps while the surrounding poorer areas are feeling ignored.

Words from Deng Guigento

Deng Guigento, CRS staff member working in Dili, East Timor is living and working with other agency staff in a small four room house. Since the staff live and work in the same house, the working hours are extended until late in the evening. "People are coming and going while we are still eating our breakfast," says Guigento. "All in all, our CRS/East Timor emergency response is going well. We're really working hard," says Guigento.

Background of the Situation

East Timor, as a new nation, is starting from scratch. From a Portuguese colony to an Indonesian province, East Timor has seen 200,000 people killed in its land over the last 25 years. Now as a newly independent nation, it has no government, no laws, no civil service, and no police. Adding to this, its infrastructure has been devastated by the militias that reacted in fury when the East Timorese voted overwhelmingly for independence.

The Indonesian militia drove an estimated 750,000 of East Timor's 880,000 people from their homes. The violence and destruction over the recent months has brutalized people on both sides.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, or UNTAET, will help run East Timor for the next several years. The UNTAET is faced with the growing challenges of law and order in the absence of a local police force. The UN has deployed only 460 of the 1,610 international police officers promised to deal with the current situation. United Nations spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said, "It might be years before East Timor will be able to stand on its own."

In Dili, and other towns of East Timor, shelter still remains a critical need for those returning. Food, water, wood and building materials for shelter - the basic necessities of life - are still in very short supply. Up to 75 percent of the homes in some towns have been damaged.

The respected moderate Muslim leader Abdurrahman Wahid began his term as Indonesia's fourth president with the opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri as vice president. The same Assembly that elected the president and "Mega" also voted to accept the pro-independence results of the East Timor referendum.

Agency History

Catholic Relief Services began operating in Indonesia in 1957 through food distribution programs. The agency maintained an office in East Timor between 1975 and 1988. Over the years, resources have been transferred to local organizations to support projects in the areas of emergency relief, health, sustainable agriculture and enterprise development. Catholic Relief Services continues to work with these local organizations, assisting the citizens of this new nation.

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