Subject: Displaced Timorese rally to return home
September 19, 2008
Displaced Timorese rally to return home
By Matt Crook and Domingos Fernandes (Voice of Culture)
DILI, EAST TIMOR: Disgruntled Timorese living in one of Dili's camps
for internally displaced persons (IDPs) were told on Tuesday that the
verification process that will allow many of them to return home will
begin on Wednesday, although thousands more remain in IDP camps around
About 100 IDPs marched from the Obrigado Barracks camp, which is located
in a car park opposite the United Nations compound, to the Ministry of
Social Solidarity to demand answers as to why they have been unable to
return to their homes since being displaced in 2006 when clashes within
Timorese security forces incited violence among local street gangs and
The protesters congregated at the entrance to Obrigado Barracks at about
1 pm, locking the gates to the camp and leaving UN staff unable to
remove their vehicles from the compound.
In a bid to draw attention to their plight, the protesters shook the
gates and heckled passing government vehicles, a foreign source working
for a local security firm said.
The source added that the protesters opened the gates and calmed down
after it was suggested that they wait for journalists to arrive.
UN Police officers and local security officials maintained the peace.
Ilidio Gayo, resident of Obrigado Barracks and head of security at the
camp, told reporters that the families living there are ready to return
home, but the government has been unable to give a definite answer as to
Some 322 families comprising 1,508 people are registered on the Ministry
of Social Solidarity database as living at Obrigado Barracks.
?First we were told we could leave in June, then they told us August and
now we are told we cannot leave,? said Mr Gayo.
At about 2:30 PM Mr Gayo led a march to the Ministry of Social
Solidarity, located five minutes? walk from Obrigado Barracks.
There protesters rallied outside the entrance and demanded a meeting
with an official of the ministry.
The group were blocked from entering the building by National Police of
East Timor Officers while armed Portuguese Republican National
Guard troops arrived at the scene and kept watch over the proceedings.
After a brief standoff, seven of the protesters were allowed into the
building and the remainder were escorted outside the grounds.
The seven protesters were granted an audience with Jacinto Rigoberto
Gomes, secretary of state for Social Assistance and Natural Disasters.
The two parties discussed the situation and Mr Gomes said that
verification of displaced people living at Obrigado Barracks would begin
the next day.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity has 15,000 people registered in its
database awaiting verification, which is part of a five-part process
leading up to IDPs returning home.
During verification, representatives from the Ministry of Social
Solidarity travel to the homes of IDPs, often accompanied by members of
international aid organizations, to assess individual circumstances.
Nadia Hadi, humanitarian affairs officer for the UN Office of
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that the verification process
can take up to three weeks and is dependant on factors such as where
IDPs lived and whether their homes are still standing after the
A government schedule dictates when verification at each IDP camp
begins, although a source from the Ministry of Social Solidarity said
that the march on Tuesday likely only brought forward the date for
Obrigado Barracks by a few days.
Estimates put up to 30,000 people still living in Dili's 28 remaining
IDP camps, the source added.
Some 22 IDP camps in Dili have been closed by the government and those
living there have returned home or to host communities. IDPs typically
receive a recovery package of between US$500 and US$4,500 per family,
added Miss Hadi.
All but one of Dili?s ?big four? IDP camps have closed, with Metinaro
the largest camp in Dili still housing IDPs, she said, adding that
displaced persons living in the Don Bosco camp, previously the largest
in the district, returned to their homes last week.
In 2006, up to 150,000 Timorese fled to rural areas or else into one of
dozens of IDP camps around East Timor after violence erupted across the
nation when one-third of the country?s defence forces were laid off by
The resulting tension accentuated the east-west divide in the country
and bloody clashes ripped through the streets.
IDP camps sprang up all over Dili after the arrival of Malaysian and
Australian peacekeeping forces.
In March, IDPs began returning home when the internal security situation
showed signs of improving after the death of rebel leader Alfredo
Reinado, while many of the former rebels angry with the government began
Initially many IDPs were weary of leaving behind government support and
relative safety to return home, particularly as many Timorese still felt
unsafe in their home communities.
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