An estimated 80,000 East Timorese refugees remained in the Indonesian territory of West Timor at the end of 2001. An unknown number of persons were internally displaced in East Timor.

Some 1,800 East Timorese asylum seekers remained in Australia at year's end, many having been there for as long as eight years. In late December, the Australian government said that East Timor was safe and asked the asylum seekers to return home.


East Timor voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia in September 1999. Following the vote, anti-independence militia went on a rampage, destroying most of the country's infrastructure, killing thousands of persons, and forcing at least 250,000 East Timorese into 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 exercising administrative, legal, and judicial control over East Timor, initially until January 31, 2001. Although East Timor remained a UN-administered territory at the end of 2001, it is scheduled to become fully independent in May 2002.

Political and Legal Developments

In January, the UN Security Council extended UNTAET's mandate until January 31, 2002.

On August 30, East Timor held an election to select a constituent assembly to draft a constitution. The next month, UN Transitional Administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello appointed a council of ministers comprised wholly of East Timorese.

On October 31, the UN Security Council endorsed the constituent assembly's proposal to establish May 20, 2002 as the date for East Timor's independence, and extended UNTAET's mandate until that date.

East Timor made significant progress during the year towards establishing a truth and reconciliation commission. In addition, East Timorese courts and prosecutors took steps to bring accused perpetrators of the 1999 violence to justice.

Repatriation from West Timor

At the end of 2001, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that 80,000 East Timorese refugees remained in Indonesia's West Timor. Other estimates ranged from 50,000 to 129,000. Of the 80,000, UNHCR believed that at least 57,000 wished to return to East Timor.

Nearly 18,000 East Timorese repatriated from Indonesia during the year. The vast majority (17,300) repatriated from West Timor, with an estimated 660 returning from other areas of Indonesia. More than 8,000 of the returns took place between September and December, following East Timor's peaceful election of August 30. At year's end, the total number of repatriations since October 1999 was close to 193,000.

The majority returned under the auspices of UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Because UNHCR closed its offices in West Timor following the murder of three UNHCR staff in Atambua in September 2000, the Indonesian government's refugee taskforce (SATGAS) worked with the Indonesian army to organize returns. UNHCR's East Timor office said it would continue assisting with the repatriation through December 2002.

Staff of UNTAET, UNHCR, and IOM met returnees at the East Timor border. They ensured the civilian status of the refugees, verified that the return was voluntary, and provided transportation to their villages of origin. UNHCR also worked to ensure protection of the returnees, and supported cultural events to strengthen reconciliation and community building. While UNHCR reported no actual cases of retaliation against pro-Indonesia returnees, individuals with past links to militias or anti-independence groups did "continue to risk harassment."

Although intimidation of potential returnees by pro-Indonesia militia members in West Timor had not entirely disappeared by year's end, economic issues had also become a factor behind the reluctance of some refugees to return. Tens of thousands who have not yet returned are current or former Indonesian civil servants or members of the military who are likely to repatriate once issues of pensions and severance pay are resolved. Efforts are underway by international donors to establish a "special fund" to provide such compensation.

In October, the cash-strapped Indonesian government announced that it would cut off all humanitarian aid to the remaining East Timorese refugees at year's end. In November, Indonesia offered a cash incentive to each repatriating family that returned before Christmas (the government assumed that the East Timorese, who are primarily Catholic, would want to be home to celebrate Christmas with their families). UNHCR confirmed that the government had stopped food delivery to the refugees as of December 31.

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. Most, if not all, of the displaced came out of hiding during 2000. However, with 70 percent of private homes and public buildings destroyed in the aftermath of the independence vote, many East Timorese were forced to find housing elsewhere, often with family or friends.

UNHCR's shelter program remained active throughout 2001, providing tens of thousands of shelter kits to returnees whose homes no longer existed. Therefore, an unknown, but likely significant, number of East Timorese remained in some stage of displacement at the end of 2001.


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