Subject: ABC: Refugee crisis likely to continue 

Radio Australia

Last Updated 3/04/2007 4:05:16 PM

EAST TIMOR: Refugee crisis likely to continue

In East Timor, the refugee crisis looks set to continue well beyond the elections. The 70-thousand internally displaced people or I-D-P's show no sign of packing up their meagre belongings and leaving the squalid tent camps they've called home for almost a year. Listen Audio Help

Presenter/Interviewer: Karon Snowdon

Speakers: Arsenio Bano, East Timor's Minister for Labour; Father Antonio Aves, Catholic Priest in Dili

SNOWDON: Renewed violence in January saw another nine-thousand seek what refuge there is in the camps scattered around the capital Dili.

SNOWDON: Now another house has burnt down on the road near Comoro and the fire brigade is in attendance, and this is the reason that people say they can't leave the refugee camps. A disturbing thing maybe is that there's absolutely no one around, no people at all to help or to be concerned, they've all left.

SNOWDON: Gracia has lived with two thousand others for nine months in the church grounds at Motayel, not far from the burning house.

GRACIA REFUGEE: (Translation) I hope the new president will fix our problems and help the refugees go home as well as improve the economy.

SNOWDON: Motayel's Parish priest, Father Antomio Aves says he has no idea when the camp people will leave.

And he can only hope the election of a new President on April the 9th followed later by general polls will end the political impasse which is in part to blame.

AVES: Government promise a lot, they said that it's better to go home, they're building new houses and buildings, everything, but now nothing.

SNOWDON: So there's no end in sight?

AVES: No, until now we see something half completion maybe, otherwise you may have to wait for another year, the people are suffering, when it's raining there's nowhere to rest, not enough water, no toilets, two-thousand people, not just two or three people. So I hope the government will do something, but until now as I said we'll just cross our fingers with what's going to happen.

SNOWDON: While the tents and facilities in the camps are basic, one success has been the absence of major disease outbreaks. The other challenges have been to protect women and children and provide education for the kids.

There are an estimated 70-thousand still in the camps throughout the country, at least half of them in Dili.

The Government Minister with the responsibility for the refugee camps is Arsenio Bano.

BANO: The situation in some areas has not improved very much in the last month, but I think since past weeks ago we see improvement. And I'm quite confident that we will have more people go home if the election is going well, if the security situation in Dili especially continues to indicate improvement it's a good sign. And I think it will be a big contribution for the decision to go home or to go to the centre we have prepared in the districts, or go to the transitional centres that some of them have already been constructed.

SNOWDON: Many refugees say security is not good enough to allow them to feel safe enough to go home.

Others who might have been involved in some of the violence, fear they face community retribution for their crimes if they return.

Father Antonio Aves says communities have a responsibility to make peace with each other.

AVES: But the security you have to make your own, you can't wait for another.. you have peace to build up peace, peace starts with me, security starts with me. If you do something wrong then you will have to pay for it.

SNOWDON: Are you saying the community as a whole can do more for itself?

AVES: It's true, I think a lot of media representatives here they can do something, peace you have to build up by yourself.

SNOWDON: What can the people do?

AVES: Live in peace, respect yourself, respect other people too. I think Timor is not ready for democracy yet maybe, a lot of ministers here, are they prepared for the job, quality or just name? I don't want to blame anyone, they are better than me of course, but you can have the goodwill, but goodwill is not enough.

SNOWDON: All eight candidates in the current presidential election campaign say helping the refugees is a priority.

The crisis arose with the breakdown of discipline and an outbreak of violence in the army and police forces in April last year. At its height 150-thousand lived in the camps.

Arsenio Bano has a management plan for the camps and transition centres until June, when new general elections are expected.

He says the new government will have to plan for another year.

BANO: How to really contribute or reveal the confidence of the population so they can actually feel confidence to make a decision where to go. So that's the biggest challenge. 

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