UNHCR closes office in Timor-Leste, ending 12 year operation

Briefing Notes, 13 January 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahečić to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 January 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Yesterday saw a ceremony in Dili, Timor-Leste, marking the closure of UNHCR's office there, after 12 years of operations in assisting refugees and other displaced people. The ceremony was held at the presidential palace.

UNHCR opened its office in Timor-Leste in May 1999. Violence surrounding the referendum on Independence from Indonesia, held in August that year, saw nearly a quarter of a million people fleeing to neighbouring West Timor. UNHCR helped 220,000 people to return home and assisted in reconciliation efforts. Thousands of returnees were assisted with the building of new homes. Building materials were flown by helicopter to remote regions.

In 2006, following a subsequent emergency, UNHCR rushed emergency help to 150,000 people, displaced internally by violence, looting, and arson.

During yesterday's ceremony tributes were paid to three UNHCR staff Samson Aregahegn, Carlos Luis Caceres-Collazo and Pero Simundza who were killed during violence in Atambua, West Timor, in September 2000.

UNHCR's regional office in Bangkok will now take on the job of working with the government and civil society in Timor-Leste to protect refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Bangkok: Kitty McKinsey on mobile +66 818 270 280
  • In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

In mid-June UNHCR extended its emergency relief operation in Timor-Leste to include tens of thousands of people who fled violence in the capital Dili for districts in the countryside. An estimated 79,000 displaced people are in outlying districts with some 72,000 displaced in Dili.

The UN refugee agency has delivered shelter materials and emergency supplies to easterners and westerners in Hera village, 25 kilometres to the east of Dili. Most of the inhabitants of Hera are westerners and have fled their homes and taken to the hills. A smaller group of easterners have moved to the safety of a fenced naval compound, where they have been joined by easterners who fled Dili. UNHCR has also delivered shelter materials to Metinaro, 40 minutes outside of Dili, as well as to Auturo Island.

Despite sporadic violence, UNHCR continues to help the displaced who say they are still too scared to return to their homes and will wait in temporary shelters until the crisis ends.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.5: The Emergency Operation Reaches Out

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

June 2006

Recent violence in Timor-Leste has displaced about 100,000 people, with 65,000 sheltering in 40 squalid encampments in the capital, Dili, and a further 35,000 taking refuge in the countryside. A UNHCR assessment team visited the makeshift camps in Dili end May and reported the most critical humanitarian needs, aside from security, were food, clean water and shelter.

In a phased response to the crisis and as part of a joint UN effort, UNHCR deployed an emergency team to reinforce staff on the ground and is now airlifting in urgently needed supplies for some 30,000 displaced. The first flight, which arrived in Dili on June 5, brought 14 tonnes of lightweight family tents, plastic sheets and jerry cans from UNHCR stockpiles in Jordan.

UNHCR and its partners will use these items to establish new, planned camps for the displaced, where they can live in better conditions and assistance will be easier to deliver, until the security situation improves and they can return to their homes.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.1: Recent Violence

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps

With the first wave of UNHCR's air and sea operation to rush relief supplies to Timor-Leste completed, the focus is now on improving the living conditions of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) living in crowded, unsanitary makeshift camps around Dili.

Many of the 69,000 displaced in Dili have told UNHCR they prefer to stay near the makeshift sites where they feel safe. In response, UNHCR has begun searching for additional sites around these areas to clear ground, pitch tents and decongest the existing makeshift shelters. Not all makeshift sites are suitable for expansion, so UNHCR is moving ahead with the establishment and planning of new sites.

UNHCR has sent an assessment team to the countryside where some 78,000 Timorese have sought refuge. Many displaced are staying with relatives, while others are sheltering in huts, offices, church building and spontaneous camp sites. We are now delivering assistance to some of these people.

Emergency in Timor-Leste pt.4: UNHCR Sets Up Camps