24 March 2009

TIMOR-LESTE: Dili's displaced face renewed delays

DILI, 23 March 2009 (IRIN) - Residents of the last remaining camp for the internally displaced (IDPs) will have to wait a little longer to go home after the tentative return date of 12 March was pushed back.

In April 2006, disaffected army troops clashed with pro-government troops in Dili, triggering violence that forced up to 150,000 people to seek refuge in IDP camps across the country.

Most have returned home, but for the 9,000-plus still living in Metinaro camp in the east of Dili, the capital, the wait is not over.

A delay in verifying the state of the IDPs' houses and thus determining how much money they are entitled to as part of a resettlement package of up to US$4,500 means the government will have to set a new return date.

The government has closed Dili's more than 50 IDP camps one by one, with Metinaro one of the last on the list. The Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) has been assessing the condition of each family's home.

Luis Esteves, site liaison support for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said: "Each family needs to go to their house and then [the MSS] needs to [verify that] it belongs to them."

Amandio Freitas, MSS director for social assistance, said that while they have been living in the camp, many of the IDPs' houses have been taken over. Sometimes there are claims of ownership of land from multiple parties, he added.

"The IDPs might agree to give money to the occupants from the package they receive. Sometimes the IDPs won't give any money and the occupants won't leave. We then have to ask the police to remove the occupants," he said.

Conditions in Metinaro

Several agencies have been working at Metinaro. Plan International, which put in 32 wells and 242 latrines, supplies the camp with fresh water.

Plan's operation has been funded by the European Commission's humanitarian aid department. Megh Rai, Plan's emergency programme manager, said: "We are trucking [in] 44,000 litres of water every day."

The health of IDPs has been a concern. Aida Goncalves, 32, a doctor, works at Bairo Pite Clinic, which began holding sessions at the camp every Saturday in August 2006.

The clinic sees up to 200 people per visit. "Diarrhoea is the most common ailment we see. We also see a lot of upper respiratory infections and skin infections related to the water and hygiene. The water they have is clean, but they only have small tanks and the ratio between the tanks and the people is not enough," she said.

Angelo Pereira, the camp manager, liaises between residents, the MSS and NGOs. He told IRIN that returning home was only the beginning of yet another struggle for the IDPs.

"One challenge is being accepted back into the community. Then we have to get used to daily life because we've lived in this camp for such a long time. We are starting again from scratch because we have nothing."

Image added by ETLJB: IDP camp, Dili, East Timor 2007.

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