Subject: Church Joins Government In Asking Refugees To Go Home

ET05035.1498 May 22, 2008 47 EM-lines (504 words)

EAST TIMOR Church Joins Government In Asking Refugees To Go Home

DILI (UCAN) -- The Catholic Church in East Timor is helping the government encourage thousands of people who left their homes in fear of violence to now return home.

At a Mass on May 15 for 2,000 refugees preparing to go home in the coming days, Bishop Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili said, "The Church is always ready to collaborate with the government to resolve the IDP (internally displaced people) problem."

Parliament President Fernando de Araujo, other members of parliament and government officials attended the Mass at the Garden of Mother Mary from Fatima, a public park near the Dili harbor.

Refugees have been a source of concern since 100,000 people sought safety from gang violence that erupted in 2006 and killed at least 20, following a dispute within the army. About 60,000 remain in makeshift camps, many on Church property, largely in the capital area.

According to recent data from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, around 10,000 refugees have received compensation from the government and returned home since January.

Impoverished East Timor has struggled with political turmoil and violence since it gained independence in 2002 after more than three decades under Indonesian rule, which came after more than three centuries as a Portuguese colony. Now the government is trying to clear the camps.

During the Mass, Bishop da Silva told the refugees their problems are not just a preoccupation of the government but also a concern of the Church, "because you are not just citizens but also children of God."

The Church leader said he is appealing to all refugees in the camps to make the decision to leave and get on with their life. "You have had two years staying in tents, and now it is the time to go home and run your normal life as humans, citizens and children of God," he said.

Bishop da Silva also urged the refugees to reject violence and hate, and restore peace.

After the Mass, de Araujo told the refugees the government would guarantee their security. "There will be no irresponsible groups or individuals to intimidate you, and the government will protect you," the parliament president assured.

He also thanked the Church for its support and efforts to help develop the country. When the refugee camps are empty, he added, the government can focus more fully on national development.

Leopoldino Pinto told UCA News at the event that he is happy to go home and rebuild his life with the compensation he received from the government, equivalent to US$4,000. According to the father of four, the government is giving US$4,000 to families like his whose house was burned down, and US$1,500 for houses that were damaged.

"I would like to thank the Church and the government for finding ways to enable us to return home," he said.

Maria dos Santos, 37, was delighted to finally have the opportunity to return home. "My family and I have dreamed of enjoying a peaceful life in our home," she said. "Now it is going to happen."

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