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Lack of funds forces UN refugee agency to halt Timor-Leste operation

Lack of funds forces UN refugee agency to halt Timor-Leste operation

The UN refugee agency has ended its emergency operation in Timor-Leste owing to a lack of funds, bringing to a close nearly 14 months of vital assistance to some 150,000 people displaced following the outbreak of factional violence last year.

The last international staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have now left the young nation, which the UN helped shepherd to independence in 2002, leaving behind only a small core of national staff to help rebuild the skills of civil servants and to look after a handful of refugees from Asia and West Africa, the agency said in a press release issued today.

“We accomplished a lot,” said Robert Ashe, UNHCR's Jakarta-based regional representative. In the first three months following the April-May 2006 violence, the agency helped thousands of people in makeshift camps that had been set up in and around Dili.

UNHCR, along with Australian peacekeepers, worked to ensure that the airport in the capital, Dili, resumed functioning in the early days after the looting and fighting, which left at least 25 people dead and 150,000 displaced.

After Dili Airport was taken over by internally displaced people seeking shelter, UNHCR set up a nearby tent city which allowed the facility to return to its intended function.

Last September, UNHCR provided more than 1,500 lightweight family tents, plastic sheeting and other relief items to the Government, which estimated that some 1,500 houses were destroyed or badly damaged in Dili alone.

The agency says the situation remains grim for many of those still displaced, which the Government says could be as many as 100,000 people, with at least 25,000 of those in the capital.

Mr. Ashe added that last Saturday's peaceful parliamentary election, for which the votes are still being counted, offered hope for a brighter future if the new Government could focus on the issues of internally displaced people, poverty and employment.