AT A GLANCE
- Medical team deploys in a West Timor refugee camp to check reports of an upsurge of illnesses resulting in deaths mainly among children in the midst of the rainy season.
- Indonesian military agrees to separate militias from refugees in a bid to increase the pace of repatriation.
- Rate of returns picks up with around 700 going home on Monday; overall returns since October under the UNHCR-IOM repatriation program reach nearly 113,200.
UNHCR, working with Indonesian government officials, WHO and other aid agencies, dispatched a 41-member medical team to Tua Pukan camp over the weekend to look into reports of an upsurge in illnesses in the midst of the rainy season.
Local authorities say at least 170 deaths have been recorded since September at Tua Pukan - one of three camps in the Kupang area which altogether host more than 20,000 Timorese. Of the total, 35 " mostly children under 5 " were reported to have died during the 22 November-1 December period, mainly of diarrhea and malaria.
Since Saturday, the team members have been going from household to household to identify those who are sick, moving those who urgently need medical attention to three health outposts.
Conditions at Tua Pukan are appalling. Half of the 192 latrines at Tua Pukan are not working, water sources are contaminated and water delivered by trucks is untreated.
UNHCR and other aid agencies had no access to the Kupang camps, which are controlled by militias, until late November. Since then, UNHCR has distributed soap and buckets, but security is still tenuous, with continuing militia presence. The office is sending experts to improve sanitation and delivery of water.
Military authorities have agreed in principle in meetings with UNHCR to separate militias from refugees in the camps. UNHCR representatives met with Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, the new military commander in West Timor, on Monday in talks on the subject that began last week.
The Geneva-based director of UNHCR's Asia Bureau, François Fouinat, is to continue discussions on Tuesday with the West Timor governor, Piet Tallo. On Wednesday, Fouinat is to attend talks between Syahnakri and General Peter Cosgrove, the commander of the International Force in East Timor.
Militia leaders attended Monday's meeting between UNHCR and Syahnakri, the last Indonesian commander in East Timor. They expressed concern about security in East Timor and complained about alleged attacks by Falintil militias against returnees. These militia leaders indicated no desire to return and repeated demands that the results of the 30 August vote for independence in East Timor be annulled.
Some 700 refugees returned to East Timor on Monday, including 583 who went overland through Motaain and Betun crossings and 83 who joined the flight from Kupang to Dili in East Timor. Only 27 returned to the Ambeno enclave, indicating continuing concern among refugees in West Timor over reports of harassment of returnees.
Returns from Australia resumed - 213 from Perth on Sunday and 305 from Melbourne on Monday. Five earlier flights from Australia repatriated 306 refugees. Some 790 Timorese refugees remain in Australia.
Since the repatriation program started on 8 October 113,200 refugees have returned to East Timor.
Based on government estimates in September, some 140,000 refugees are remaining in West Timor and other parts of Indonesia.
There are generally two categories of Timorese refugees: those who wish to return to East Timor but are subject to militia intimidation and a complicated group of pro-Indonesia integration and autonomy supporters, active or former military, as well as police and civil servants.
UNHCR has completed a video presentation of conditions in East Timor and is making arrangements to show it either in the camps in Kupang, or if this is not possible, in nearby churches or sports facilities.
Since UNHCR began a mass information program in West Timor, five radio stations and newspapers have been reporting positively about conditions of returns. UNHCR also has been arranging "go-and-see visits" to East Timor of refugees and journalists.
This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.