Subject: ETese NGOs write UNHCR to protest planned withdrawal

Full Text of letter released by a coalition of East Timorese NGOs


Mr. Ruud Lubbers UN High Commissioner for Refugees Geneva

8 September 2001

Dear Mr. Lubbers

We write to express our concerns and recommendations regarding the winding down and the closure of the UNHCR operation in East Timor. We understand that UNHCR field offices in Baucau and Maliana are due to be closed by September 31st, and humanitarian assistance for the returnees will cease on the 31stOctober 2001. We believe this reduction is untimely as it is widely expected that returns will increase following the announcement of the result of the elections for a Constituent Assembly in East Timor and continue until at least next year.

Since October 1999 over 183,000 East Timorese refugees have returned from West Timor. By and large these returns have been repatriated safely under the auspices of UNHCR, UNTAET, NGOs, East Timorese groups and communities. There are an estimated 80,000 persons in camps in West Timor and an unknown number in other parts of Indonesia. Most commentators would agree that the majority of these want to return to East Timor at some stage when secure return and repatriation conditions are assured.

Whilst assistance and the protection of these refugees is incumbent on the Government of Indonesia, UNHCR is mandated to support their efforts in the protection, and safe and dignified return of the refugees. Furthermore, UNHCR must continue to ensure the protection and long-term reintegration of returnees.

UNTAET has stated on several occasions that the international community, and in particular the United Nations, will not abandon the refugees in West Timor. In light of the fact that UNHCR is not present in West Timor and is not likely to return, it is essential that UNHCR remain strong on the East Timor side of the border in the months following the declaration of the result of the election and until the declaration of independence of East Timor.

A substantial reduction in UNHCR staff and its departure from East Timor, while there are still significant numbers of refugees in West Timor and other parts of Indonesia, would be an indication to the East Timorese, the Government of Indonesia and the refugees themselves that the situation of the refugees has been resolved or is irresolvable. We disagree with this and believe that the refugee situation is a long-term problem.

In light of this, we recommend that UNHCR act upon the following:

· Maintain its current presence in East Timor until at least June 2002.

· Extend humanitarian assistance to returnees until at least June 2002, when a further needs assessment can be made.

· Increase co-ordination and co-operation with both governmental and non-governmental organisations that are currently assisting refugees in West Timor. This will further enable UNHCR to fulfil its mandate towards the protection and assistance of these refugees, while it is not physically present in West Timor.

· Engage in a more comprehensive way with non-governmental organisations in East Timor currently advocating and working towards returnees' reintegration.

We believe that by taking these recommendations into account, UNHCR will be able to effectively respond, with its current capacity, to the needs of refugees and returnees. We look forward to discussing these issues with your Office.

Yours faithfully

NGO Forum Dewan Solidaritas Mahasiswa TL Yayasan HAK FOKUPERS Kadalak Sulimutuk Institute RENETIL Jesuit Refugee Service Oxfam in East Timor

Cc: Sergio Vieira de Mello, SRSG UNTAET Soren Jessen Pedersen, UNHCR Geneva Gonzalo Vargas, UNHCR Geneva Erica Feller, UNHCR Geneva Raymond Hall, UNHCR Jakarta Bernard Kerblat, UNHCR East Timor Christopher Gascon, IOM East Timor

Contact Address: East Timor National NGO Forum Kaikoli Street, Dili, East Timor. Tel 322 772. email:

Working Group on Refugees and Returnees e-mail:

 Charles Scheiner, U.N. Representative International Federation for East Timor c/o La'o Hamutuk P.O. Box 340, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin, Australia) Telephone:+61-417-923273 or +670-390-325013 PGP Key available on request. For information on East Timor write Check out ETAN's web site: IFET information is at La'o Hamutuk is at

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