The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) today warned against Indonesia's plans to cut off relief aid to East Timorese refugees in West Timor after March 31.
The Indonesian government has given East Timorese until the end of this month to decide whether they want to go back to East Timor or remain in Indonesia, threatening to stop providing aid to East Timorese refugees living in some 200 encampments in West Timor.
"We appreciate Indonesia's efforts to date to help East Timorese refugees, but we are concerned that an early discontinuation of assistance will have a negative impact on the well-being of the refugees and on the repatriation programme, postponing a solution to the crisis," said Francois Fouinat - UNHCR's Geneva-based official in charge of Asia.
A memorandum of understanding signed between the Indonesian government and UNHCR on 14 October 1999, gave Indonesia overall responsibility for the safety and care of East Timorese refugees.
Since the announcement of the deadline earlier this moth, UNHCR has called on the authorities to be flexible and allow for voluntary repatriation to continue.
During a recent trip to Indonesia, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen told Jakarta UNHCR would continue to support government plans to help those wishing to return to East Timor or those who want to settle in Indonesia, but he urged Indonesia to give the people more time to decide.
Since 8 October 1999, more than 156,000 refugees have returned to East Timor under a UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme supported by the International Organisation for Migration. The World Food Programme and non-governmental organisations also joined UNHCR in providing emergency and relief assistance to the refugees. Up to 95,000 East Timorese remain in West Timor. UNHCR estimates that a significant number may still decide to return to East Timor.