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After repatriating 225,000 to Timor-Leste, UN agency ends work in West Timor

After repatriating 225,000 to Timor-Leste, UN agency ends work in West Timor

After helping the voluntary repatriation of 225,000 people who fled to West Timor to escape the violence after the 1999 referendum on independence for East Timor, the United Nations refugee agency is scheduled to finish six-years of humanitarian operations in the Indonesian half of the island on December 31.

“The focus of our efforts there was finding long-term solutions for [the] refugees,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today. “That work has now been completed.”

During the violence an estimated quarter of a million people fled East Timor. A similar number were internally displaced and sought refuge in the forests and mountains. During the initial phase of displacement, UNHCR provided emergency assistance in the form of shelter and other relief items.

Beyond the voluntary repatriation of the 225,000 refugees, mostly in organized convoys to now independent Timor-Leste, UNHCR also assisted with the local integration of some 28,000 people who chose to confirm their Indonesian citizenship and remain in West Timor.

“UNHCR's operations in West Timor will always be remembered by us for the shocking and brutal killings of three of our staff members during riots in Atambua, in Belu District, on 6 September 2000,” Mr. Redmond said. As a result, we halted our operations and evacuated all staff from West Timor.”

The agency only resumed operations in early 2002 after working closely with Indonesian security authorities and provincial and district governments in West Timor.

One challenging issue resolved in late 2004 was the situation of some 4,500 East Timorese children who had become separated from their families during the events of 1999. Most were reunited with their parents, while some continued their stay with care-givers, mostly in Indonesia for educational reasons, but with their parents’ agreement.