Restricted access to camps and slow returns
10 December 1999
East Timor - The number of returnees to East Timor is still considered to be low, according to OCHA. So far, close to 115,000 people have returned through both organised and spontaneous methods. Figures released by the Indonesian Government indicate there are another 140,000 internal refugees within West Timor and other parts of Indonesia. The low numbers are attributed to the continued restricted access to camps for humanitarian workers, intimidation of refugees, rain (the Memo crossing point is flooded), misinformation campaigns and a reduced pool of readily accessible refugees. In West Timor, as of December 4, mobile medical teams have been deployed to the Tuapukan camp near Kupang where an increase in the mortality rate was recently reported. In addition five NGOs are now working at the site, including MSF and the Indonesian Red Cross. The UNHCR has recently assigned a field officer to monitor activities. Health and Watsan experts are expected in the few next days. Agencies have reported that conditions are continuing to deteriorate in other camps as the rainy season progresses. According to reports from the UNHCR, local authorities say at least 170 deaths have been recorded since September in Tuapukan. Of the total, 35 "mostly children under 5" were reported to have died to have died during the November 22 to December 1 period, mainly because of diarrhoea and malaria. The toll is expected to rise as the rainy season sets in. Conditions at Tuapukan are appalling. Half of the 192 latrines are not working,water sources are contaminated and water delivered by trucks untreated. UNHCR representatives have said they had been able to pay lightening visits to extract people who wanted to return ET but had problems with longer assessments visits. "It (the camps) was never closed to us but it was always very fast when people were moving out and you could never see what was really going on," said a UN spokesperson. "Apparently there has been medical assistance but there is a lack of info. People were told they had to pay,so we had made it very clear they don't have to pay,they can have medical assistance for free."