Relief as last refugee camp closes

METINARO, Timor Leste : Refugees and a priest have expressed relief that the last camp for refugees who fled political violence in the country three years ago is now closing.

On June 17, the government began to close the Metinaro camp on the outskirts of Dili after political tension in April 2006 drove more than 100,000 people from their homes.

Metinaro is the last of 65 camps in Dili. The refugees here have agreed to return to their villages after each family received US$4,500 from the government to help them rebuild their homes.

The return of many of Timor Leste's displaced people had been delayed by land disputes and renewed fears of violence.

President Jose Ramos-Horta has apologized to refugees and said the 2006 crisis was the fault of the country's political leaders. He said it was only fair the refugees be compensated for what they had lost.

The parish priest of Dili's Cathedral Maria Imaculada da Conceicao, Father Angelo Sansinha, said the decision to close the camp demonstrates the government's commitment to solving the country's refugee problems.

"The government has shown moral responsibility to its people," he said. "Within three years, the government has managed to close 65 refugee camps in Dili, it is a big step toward the development of the country."

He said he hopes the returning refugees would be able to live in harmony with their neighbors and that past differences can be set aside in order to build a better future together.

Communal violence erupted in Timor Leste in April 2006 in the wake of the dismissal of more than one third of Timor Leste's army. The dismissed soldiers, from the western part of the country, had alleged discrimination. The easterners, it is claimed, were the backbone of the resistance against Indonesian rule during the 1980s and 1990s.

The tensions degenerated into clashes between groups claiming to represent Easterners and Westerners. Those displaced people took refuge in the camps, many of which were set up in Catholic churches and centers.

Casmiro dos Santos is one refugee who has been waiting to return home. He fled with his family from the Surikmas area of Dili to Metinaro because his house was burned down. "We have been suffering ... now we can see our neighbors again," he said.

Pedro Soares, 39, one of dos Santos' neighbors, said he was happy to see him home again. Soares said he hopes the country's leaders will work toward a brighter future for the nation.

Terezinha da Costa, 32, and her family also spent three years in Metinaro, where she says she encountered many problems. Now she says she is experiencing a new found sense of freedom.

"I was always afraid of going home because I wasn't sure if my neighbors would accept us or not, but now I'm more than happy because I was wrong. They've welcomed us all back," she told UCA News.

Timor Leste has a population of about 1 million, more than 90 percent of whom are Catholics. Although the former Portuguese colony has significant offshore oil and gas reserves, it faces major security, humanitarian and economic challenges, including an unemployment rate of 50 percent.

Courtesy : UCAN

No comments:

Post a Comment