JRS DISPATCHES No. 263, 17 July 2009 3. Timor Leste: return and reintegration strategy insufficient - Although the reintegration of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Timor Leste began in 2008, approximately 3,000 people still live in transitional housing.
Security issues, land disputes, illegal occupation of housing and homelessness are the principal barriers preventing the return and reintegration of refugees”, JRS Timor Leste Director, Isidoro da Costa, told Dispatches on 15 July.
The authorities, assisted by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), built transitional housing in six areas around the country: four sites in the capital Dili and two others in the nearby villages of Tibar and Hera. Each housing unit hosts between four and eight families. Although the government has promised to build permanent housing for the IDPs, it is not clear when this policy will be implemented.
According to NRC, the displaced population in the four Dili sites which numbers approximately 2,000 people, faces a range of difficulties. Approximately half of them were homeless before the outbreak of violence in 2006, nearly 40 percent are afraid to return home, while another 10 percent say their homes are being occupied by others.
Fear and marginalisation
For instance, eight families supported by JRS have been unable to return home as they have been accused of criminal acts. Even though there is no evidence to support the claims, the local police do not provide them with any protection. JRS has tried to mediate between the local community, the families and the police with little success. An apathetic police force and insensitive justice system make it more difficult for organisations to help these families return home.
Some have lost their homes, like Modesta Ero Faik. This 39 year old widow and mother of a 4 year old lived in a house on land owned by someone else. In the past, she had been allowed to build a home and open a small shop on this land. During the violence she fled to a camp. Upon her return, the owner of the land refused to allow her to rebuild. Although she has received compensation, she says it is not enough.
Unfortunately, it is those in the most vulnerable circumstances who find it hardest. Sixty-three year old Cristina da Costa has an 86 year old husband and two of her three children have disabilities. Again, the support they receive from the state is insufficient. Cristina worries about her children. What will happen to them after I am gone? Who will look after them? She asks.
Others have been relatively fortunate. Although Mariano Ximenes’ land was occupied when he fled to the camp, after mediation by the Catholic Relief Service and JRS, he was able to get it back. He paid the man who had occupied the land for the improvements he made on it in Mariano’s absence. Although this was not a perfect solution, Mariano was satisfied with the outcome.
For further information on the conditions of displaced persons see the website of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre