Indonesia + 1 more

JRS East Timor Update 24 Nov 1999

West Timor
People are crossing from West to East Timor at the rate of 3,000 per day but there are still over 130,000 East Timorese remaining in West Timor. Over 5,000 refugees returned to East Timor, most of them spontaneously, on 22 November, bringing the overall number of returns to more than 90,000. Although overland returns are taking place for the most part without major incident, the process is hindered by continued TNI and/or militia intimidation. On 22 November, a Joint Border Commission was set up to step up repatriations of East Timorese. The agreement was signed by US Ambassador to the UN, Richard Holbrooke, by representatives of Interfet, and the Indonesian military. The agreement provides for security arrangements for the overland repatriation of East Timor refugees in West Timor. The two sides agreed to speed up the repatriation process.

However, many East Timorese remain afraid to return home. In the Atambua region, ongoing militia intimidation against those who wish to return makes repatriation from this area difficult. Militias still control several camps which are off-limits for relief workers and UNHCR. On 17 November, 30 militiamen attacked a convoy of East Timorese assembled in front of the police station in Atambua. One pregnant woman and her husband were beaten while policemen stood by and watched. "Unfortunately, these incidents keep occurring, but it was very unfortunate that it happened right in front of the police station with policemen standing by, choosing to allow the attack to take place," said Tom Vargas, UNHCR representative in Atambua.

The militias are also spreading rumours of rape and violence committed by Interfet troops in East Timor. "Many of the East Timorese are still afraid to return because they believe they will be beaten and raped by Interfet troops. We are working hard to counter such rumours in the camps," said Edi Mulyono, a member of JRS West Timor. Conditions in most of the camps remain poor with limited supply of food, water and adequate medical attention.

East Timor

East Timor is now seemingly peaceful. Interfet troops have secured most areas and all major roads have been declared safe for travel. The East Timorese return to a destroyed land. Indiscriminate looting and violence by anti-independence militias and Indonesian military following the 30 August vote for independence have devastated East Timor. The destruction is widespread, most of the buildings destroyed. Not even the poorest were spared. Some regions, such as Los Palos where JRS is now present, have been almost completely ruined. "These people were very poor and now they have lost even the little they had," said Jub Phoktavi, a JRS team member in Luro. However, despite their losses, the people of Luro and other surrounding villages have began to rebuild their houses and their community. Schools have also begun to operate although books, pens and even desks and chairs for students are scarce.

Inadequate food supplies and transport to outlying areas continue to cause major problems. People returning to East Timor are often forced to wait for days to return to their villages due to lack of transport. "There is a definite shortage of trucks to transport those who are returning from West Timor. Also, rice and other supplies do not get to the needy because there are no trucks to deliver them," said Peter Hosking SJ, JRS East Timor assistant director.

A lack of building materials is also causing concern as most buildings need extensive or total repair. So far, few building materials have arrived and promised goods are continuously being delayed. The rainy season has already arrived in East Timor and this will greatly hinder the rebuilding process and fuel the disappointment of those who remain without reliable shelter.


JRS Indonesia has sent eight people to West Timor since 11 September, and bases in Kupang and Atambua have been set up. They have field teams in the camps and have helped to mobilise the two dioceses. In East Timor too, following the death of Fr Karl, the Jesuits continued reaching out to displaced people in Dili and its whereabouts. International JRS personnel have now moved in to complement their efforts.

"Financial support is needed for these activities. Contributions are welcome and may be sent to any JRS office or to Rome in any major currency," said JRS International director, Mark Raper SJ.

Donations by cheque should be made payable to Jesuit Refugee Service.

For bank transfers to JRS International in Rome: Bank: L'Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR), Citta del Vaticano
Account name: GISA

Account numbers:
For US dollars: 27212-007
For European currencies: EURO-27212-035
For any other currency: 27212-001 (LIT)
Beneficiary: Jesuit Refugee Service

It is important to specify JRS as the beneficiary since the GISA account serves the whole society of Jesus. Also indicate that the donation is for Timor.

© 1999. Jesuit Refugee Service