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Finally going home: Refugee camps closed in Timor Leste

Asia Calling - August 25, 2008

Saul Salavador – Thousands of Internally displaced refugees in Timor Leste are finally going home.

For the last two years, they have been living in makeshift tent camps. Their homes were destroyed when the tiny nation descended into communal violence sparked by divisions in the military and police.

Now the government is encouraging them home with a 4,500 US dollar grant. The money is so they can restore or rebuild their homes that were burnt down during the crisis.

As Saul Salvador reports from Dilli some of the internal refugees complain it's too little help too late.

The rebuilding process has finally begun – two years after these houses in the Comoro district of Dilli where destroyed.

Terehzinha Freitas is busy fixing broken windows and repairing her roof. Her house was burnt down in the communal violence between groups from the East and West of the country in 2006.

She blames the government for the violence, saying ethnic tensions in the military and police were allowed to get out of hand.

It's only now with the governments grant of four and half thousand US dollars that she can start to rebuild her house. But she's not satisfied.

"Because the price of building materials have rocketed due to demand. That means that the money is not enough. We don't have enough to rebuild our home."

She says that when government officials visited their refugees camps they promised to give them aid in several stages and to pay for damaged house hold goods.

But Amandio Freitas the general co-ordinator for internally displaced people insists they are keeping their promises.

"We already planned and budgeted for these re-building grants before the price of building materials rose. All the refugees will receive a fair package based on the information we have collected on the ground."

He says the four and a half thousand US dollar reconstruction grant per family is just the first stage. "The next grant will be for replacing household appliances that the people lost based on the information that we got from the victims and also the testimony of other refugees."

Government figures show that two thousand families from more than 20 camps in Dilli have received the money and have gone home.

41 year old Jose Bassalo, whose house was also burnt down, is happy he can go home.

"I think that the government is now solving the refugee problem for good. Also everyone is returning to their homes. Although the grant does not cover all the rebuilding costs it shows that the government cares about the people's suffering and that makes us happy."

However, there are still an estimated eight thousand families still living in camps.

Amandio Freitas the man in charge of helping the IDPs says they are now focusing on closing down the large camps near the airport and the Canosa Balide Seminary.

He is promising everyone will be home by Christmas in December this year.