Supporting all faiths in Timor-Leste

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Anna Sussmilch, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand's communicator in Timor Leste
This week The United Nations has asked donor nations and relief groups for $18.9 million for emergency humanitarian aid for troubled East Timor after a wave of deadly clashes, arson and looting.

Some 70,000 people have left their homes for refuge in safe locations across the capital Dili while an additional 63,000 have fled the capital for the countryside, straining supplies of food and other emergency goods, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

In the current conflict, no one feels safe as gangs of local youth terrorise neighbourhoods. The local Muslim population in Dili is very small and they gathered to take refuge in the local mosque. Their homes have also come under attack, not because of any religious antagonism but due to the general lawlessness pervading Dili.

Some of Trócaire's local partners (Caritas and Catholic Relief Services) working on the ground in Dili recently paid a visit to the Masjid An-nur mosque to deliver cooking oil, tinned fish and instant noodles to the 50 families sheltering there. Earlier that week partners had visited to drop off mosquito nets, soap and women's kits.

The Masjid An-nur mosque is a big complex, with a school attached. Classrooms have been cleared to make way for families; while sleeping mats, blankets, pots and pans are stacked neatly around the edges of the rooms.

A relief worker explains that like many other IDP camps, people leave the mosque to go to their homes during the day and return at night. "We had Malaysian soldiers here earlier but they have gone and now the men keep an eye on security at night."

He says that there are many children staying at the mosque and many of them have been sick with malaria, and colds from living in such close quarters for so long. There are also a couple of pregnant women close to term.

The high ceilings and tiled floors of the mosque provide cool relief from the heat of the day. The upper level is also being used by IDP families and on the lower level prayer mats can be seen piled in a corner and one lone man can be heard praying.

As the international peace-keepers have sought to restore the city to some degree of uneasy calm, it is still unsure how long people will remain in the camps. Recent UN figures show there are now 54 camps in Dili and the nearby districts housing 70,651 DPs with the numbers showing no sign of reduction.

East Timor became independent four years ago after centuries of Portuguese colonial rule, 24 years of occupation by Indonesia and 2-1/2 years of U.N. administration. However, riots broke out in Dili in late April after the cash-strapped government dismissed 594 soldiers, and there has been sporadic violence since then.