Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2017, 08:56 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - East Timor

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - East Timor , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2000, an estimated 110,000 East Timorese refugees remained in the Indonesian territory of West Timor. An unknown number of persons, perhaps thousands, remained internally displaced in East Timor.

Some 1,650 East Timorese asylum seekers were in Australia at year's end. Most had been there for several years.

During the year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began preparing a strategy to ensure that an independent East Timor will accede to the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol and enact appropriate domestic legislation.


East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in September 1999. Following the vote, anti-independence militia went on a rampage, destroying much of East Timor and forcing some 250,000 East Timorese into neighboring West Timor.

In October 1999, the UN Security Council approved the mandate of the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET). UNTAET was tasked with maintaining administrative, legal, and judicial control over East Timor, initially until January 31, 2001.

East Timor remained a UN-administered territory at the end of 2000. It may achieve full independence as early as 2002, although the UN will likely maintain some presence in the territory even after independence.

Political Developments

In February 2000, peacekeeping authority in East Timor was transferred from the Australian-led international force, known as INTERFET, to the UNTAET Peacekeeping Force (UN-PKF), consisting of about 9,000 troops and 1,640 civilian police.

In late July, armed militiamen who had reportedly crossed the border from West Timor into East Timor killed a UN peacekeeper from New Zealand. He was the first UN peacekeeper to be killed in the territory. The following month, militia members killed a Nepalese UN peacekeeper.

During 2000, many East Timorese, including independence leader Xanana Gusmao, criticized UNTAET for what they viewed as a bloated budget that failed to provide sufficient resources to the local population, as well as insufficient jobs and authority for the Timorese. Nevertheless, at the end of 2000, it was virtually certain that UNTAET's mission would be extended for another year.

Another concern in East Timor, and among international human rights organizations, was the lack of progress in bringing to justice the accused perpetrators of the 1999 violence. Although Indonesia's human rights commission announced a list of suspects in September 1999 – including several high-level military personnel – prosecutors had issued no indictments by the end of 2000. In January, an international commission of inquiry on East Timor, appointed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a report calling for an international tribunal to prosecute crimes against humanity. By the end of the year, no steps toward such a tribunal had been taken. However, a court set up by UNTAET was in the process of conducting investigations and trials.

Repatriation from West Timor

At the end of 2000, UNHCR estimated that 110,000 East Timorese refugees remained in the Indonesian territory of West Timor (other estimates ranged from 60,000 to 125,000). Of those, UNHCR believed that at least 50,000 still wished to return to East Timor. Throughout 2000, the repatriation effort was hampered by security problems, as anti-independence militia continued to intimidate refugees and relief workers, culminating in the September 6 murder of three UNHCR staff in Atambua, West Timor.

Despite these events, more than 40,000 East Timorese repatriated from West Timor during the year, for a total of 170,000 repatriations since October 1999. The majority returned under the auspices of UNHCR.

Some 4,000 of the repatriations occurred after the pullout of most aid agencies in September. Indonesia established an "Inter-Ministerial Task Force" (SATGAS) to plan a solution for the remaining refugees. SATGAS coordinated the voluntary repatriation of some 4,000 persons (800 families) between September and the end of the year. In November, hundreds of former soldiers in the Indonesian military and their families repatriated, marking the first large-scale return of former members of the armed forces.

Staff of UNTAET, UN-PKF, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) met the returnees at the East Timor border. Those organizations ensured the civilian status of the refugees, verified the voluntariness of their return, and provided transportation to their villages of origin. The Indonesian military provided a one-time early retirement package to 69 decommissioned Indonesian military personnel.

UNHCR's primary reintegration activity in East Timor was the shelter program, conducted in partnership with nongovernmental organizations. By the end of 2000, the program had delivered 26,500 housing units, along with tools to enable returnees and internally displaced persons to rebuild their homes.

Some returnees with past links to militias or pro-autonomy groups experienced hostility and other difficulties upon return, as did some former members of the Indonesian military or civil service. UNHCR worked with UNTAET and the UN Civilian Police to help ensure the protection of such returnees and to promote reconciliation. The UN organizations also provided assistance to the emerging East Timorese government to increase its national protection capacity.

For refugees still hesitant to return to East Timor because of uncertainty over the situation there, UNHCR and IOM sponsored short-term "go and see" visits to East Timor.

Internally Displaced East Timorese

Following the 1999 militia rampage in East Timor, as many as 500,000 persons fled into East Timor's hilly interior. At the end of 1999, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 remained internally displaced, including some returnees from West Timor who remained homeless upon return. By the end of 2000, the number of internally displaced East Timorese was likely much smaller than that of the previous year, but actual numbers were difficult to determine.

Continued militia activity in East Timor during 2000 led to some new displacement. Pro-Indonesia militias entered East Timor from West Timor and attacked, threatened, and sometimes killed local villagers. Some East Timorese, in fear of such attacks, temporarily abandoned their villages. In August, for example, more than 1,000 villagers fled their homes after militia members penetrated East Timor as far as the Manufahi District in the center of the territory.

Most if not all of the East Timorese displaced in 1999 came out of hiding during 2000. However, with 70 percent of private homes and public buildings in East Timor destroyed in the aftermath of the independence vote, many East Timorese were forced to find housing elsewhere, often with family or friends. In addition, some East Timorese suspected of involvement in the rampage were unwelcome in their home villages, forcing them to try to make a new life in Dili, the capital, or to relocate elsewhere. For these reasons, a significant number of East Timorese likely remained in some stage of displacement at the end of 2000.

(In January 2001, the UN Security Council extended the mission of UNTAET and human rights groups welcomed the first successful prosecution by an East Timorese court of a militia member. In February, East Timor's de facto parliament recommended a timeline for adopting a constitution and electing a president.)

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