East Timor Crisis: The current situation March 2000

The World Bank recently called a meeting of more than twenty countries in Tokyo to discuss the reconstruction of East Timor. Oxfam sent a representative to East Timor in the leadup to the meeting to coordinate and consult with local and international non- government organisations working in East Timor on needs of the East Timorese. Oxfam's representatives focussed on the need for both quantity and quality of aid, as well as on the impact of aid on the East Timorese community. Oxfam wants to ensure that aid is appropriate to the East Timorese and meets their needs in ways that are gender and culture sensitive. Revitalising and supporting East Timorese civil society is the most effective way to ensure that development is appropriate and stays in the hands of the East Timorese in the long term. While in East Timor, Oxfam representatives held forums for all agencies to discuss gender issues, and ensuring that both women and men and benefitting from the overall humanitarian response. Find out more about Oxfam's submission to the meeting.

Oxfam International has been involved in briefing sessions with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and United Nations Development Program, as well as working with UNTAET on non-government organisations' inputs into policy development. Lia Kent from Community Aid Abroad recently went to Dili to take up a Policy Analyst position, including facilitating communication between the various parties involved in the rebuilding of East Timor. Oxfam's program counterparts in East Timor, including human rights organisations Yayasan Hak and Fokupers, are playing important roles, providing witnesses and evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in East Timor, and scrutinising the actions of non-government organisations in the new nation.


Repatriation of East Timorese from West Timor continues, however the flow of returnees has slowed, depending on the degree of harassment and intimidation by the militia. Collapsed road and bridges due to the heavy rains that have come with the wet season are creating new problems for the resettlement and relief of returnees. In the period until late February, 144,266 East Timorese returned to East Timor from eleven active fronts. The Indonesian government this month confirmed that refugees will receive privileges only until 1 April 2000.

The security situation in various parts of East Timor deteriorated slightly mid-February, with increased militia intimidation near the East Timorese enclave, Atambua and stoning of a family reunion program facilitated by the International Organisation for Migration. There was also tension during the lead-up to Indonesian President Wahid's visit to East Timor, while civil tensions rose in Dili around unemployment and other social problems.


Oxfam International has an office in Dili, and in Darwin, the latter providing important logistical back up for work in both East and West Timor. UN agencies have coordinated the division of all major tasks involved in the emergency response between the various aid agencies. As the lead agency in the water and sanitation sector, Oxfam International have organized and participated in almost all activities in the return of East Timorese deportees from West Timor. Bottled water was made available to returnees at border crossing points in Ambeno, the East Timorese enclave in West Timor, and at other points along the border.

The other primary area of Oxfam's emergency program activities in East Timor is public health and vector control (control of the spread of disease, primarily malaria and diarrhoea). An entomologist did work on malaria control and preparation was done to prevent and control dengue fever, diarrhoea and scabies. Local environmental health officers have been part of the team in East Timor, their role to mobilise local communities to work on sanitation activities. Since late February Oxfam's staff capacity was itself somewhat hampered by an outbreak of dengue fever.

In the leadup to the wet season, which has now begun, the efforts of Oxfam community mobilisers in Dili were scaled up for drain and rubbish clearance in the city. Community mobilisation has been high, and drain clearance activities have increased at the request of local East Timorese communities. In particular, Oxfam's activities have been greatly assisted by the participation of local women's groups in places like Suai. Oxfam also conducted training workshops for local East Timorese community leaders in the area of public health. Many schools in the area reopened late last year; Oxfam distributed tarpaulins for use in makeshift schools, as many previously-used building have been destroyed.

Recent movements out of the Oxfam warehouse in Dili include the distribution of more than 15,000 mosquito nets in Dili, Suai and Maliano, more than 1,500 tarpaulins and more than 20,000 bars of soap. The water and sanitation facilities at Dili market were assessed, and water facilities in Liquica, Maliana, Ambeno and Suai have all been improved. An Oxfam International team was also sent into the East Timorese Enclave of Ambeno (in West Timor) to assess the environmental health circumstances and water supply. Oxfam staff have been involved in mobilising local people to dig latrines, and have chlorinated wells and installed a tap system to ensure clean and safe water for the displaced people still in Ambeno.


The numbers of displaced people in West Timor reduced to approximately 160,000 by December. Living conditions in the camps are reported to be poor, however Oxfam staff are able to come in and out of the camps, with security improved, but caution is still needed. Some minor security incidents have been reported in the camps, and an Oxfam car was shot while travelling from Atambua to Soe, however no one was hurt, and East Timorese staff believe that the motive was robbery, rather than the attack specifically being directed at an international agency.

The displaced populations in West Timor are highly dispersed. They are found in the centre of towns or isolated villages. Some live in tented camps and makeshift huts while others live in 'barracks' built by the government. While the nature of this displacement reduces the risk of spread of diseases that are common to congested camps, it can inhibit the effective delivery of services to the refugee sites. Accessibility to the camps is also difficult due to the poor conditions of the roads and the rains.

As in East Timor, Oxfam's West Timor program is focussing on public health and water, particularly in the remaining camps in Soe and Kefamenanu, but also in other areas throughout West Timor, including Anag, Tasinifu, Wini, Haumeniana and Turiskain. Water is being delivered to 16 camps, while plans are being made to upgrade water facilities at many of these camps. Oxfam's West Timor program now has an office in Soe with local and international personnel, including a hygeine promotions team, health workers and a water and sanitation engineer. Hygiene promotions have begun in several camps, and refugees are being trained in these skills. In Soe, Oxfam is connecting camps to the town water supply., while work on two water casements for natural springs in border camps has been finished, supplying the camps with a fresh supply of water.


Oxfam is seeking expert Australia-based staff in a range of areas for our Emergencies Relief Register, for short-term deployment to our emergency programs in both East and West Timor and the Balkans. Applicants must have experience in international emergency programs. Some of the positions we are now recruiting for include Program and Project Managers, Office Managers, Accountants, Logisticians, Public Health Engineers and Hygiene Promoters. Find out more.