Subject: AGE: Dili refugee camps considered too good to leave

Dili refugee camps considered too good to leave

Lindsay Murdoch, Dili July 20, 2006

LIFE in Dili's refugee camps isn't too bad. A boy sits on sacks of rice strumming his guitar. Mothers stir pots of boiling food. Men doze blissfully in their families' United Nations-supplied tents.

Trucks bring fresh water twice a day. There are deliveries of high-protein corn, rice, cooking oil and soap.

Mick Slater, the commander of Australia's peacekeeping force in East Timor, thinks that the UN and aid agencies have done "almost too good a job" caring for an estimated 73,000 people who are still sleeping in 33 camps scattered across Dili.

The problem is that the camp residents don't want to go home, even though the violence that caused them to flee their homes has ended after the swearing-in last week of East Timor's new Government.

"There would be some people who most definitely feel what is available in the camps is better than they have got in their own homes or communities," Brigadier Slater said yesterday.

Finn Reske-Nielsen, the UN's top refugee official in East Timor, also warned of the risk of creating what he called a "long-term dependency syndrome" in the camps.

"In some ways they are better off in the camps," Mr Reske-Nielsen said. "We estimate that it could take until the end of the year before we have a situation where the majority of the internally displaced people have gone home."

Carmalinda Pereira, a mother of eight, says her family has no intention of leaving the grounds of the Catholic Church's Canossian Sisters, where up to 15,000 people have been living since violence began in Dili in April.

"We are still too afraid to go to our house," she said. "We don't know what the problems are among Timorese groups but we know there are still problems."

Guilhermina Marcal, the sister in charge of the camp, said many of the displaced people were "deeply traumatised".

"I test them by telling them that they must go home tomorrow and they burst out crying, saying, 'No, no, this is my home now,' especially the children," Sister Guilhermina said.

Representatives of aid agencies say that increasing numbers of people in the camps are leaving to work or even go to their homes during the day but return to the camps to sleep at night.

"It will be difficult to get people to leave the camps permanently," Sister Guilhermina said. "They feel safer here."

The UN, aid agencies and international troops in the country have a plan to entice people out of the camps by providing security, food and medical services back in the communities.

Brigadier Slater said the plan would be tested near the suburb of Becora in a few days.

"Our troops will be physically located there 24 hours a day," he said.

The UN estimates that there are also 78,000 displaced people outside Dili.

Back to July menu 
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu