Timor-Leste IDP Figures Analysis

IDMC estimates that at least 900 people were displaced in Timor-Leste as of February 2015


IDMC’s estimate is based on figures published by the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) in 2012. According to UNMIT, some 146 families were evicted by the government in January 2011 from the makeshift shelter in the capital Dili, where they had sought refuge since their initial displacement in 1999. After their eviction, they moved to a squatter settlement where they have failed to find adequate housing, and have remained at risk of further eviction (UNMIT, April 2012 p.34; Stead, 2014, p.4). Based on data from the 2010 national census which indicated that the average number of household was 5.8, the number of displaced individuals is estimated at around 900.

Another estimate coming from an NGO working with the displaced community has put the number of displaced households at 175 (Rede ba Rai Timor-Leste, 22 June 2011). This would represent an additional 115 individuals. 

The estimate of 900 IDPs is likely to only partially represent the number of people displaced in 1999 or 2006 (see below), and who have failed to secure adequate housing or an adequate standard of living due to lack of tenure security. However, in the absence of any other data, this figure is considered as the most credible currently available.

Displacement following the 1999 referendum on the independence of Timor-Leste

In 1999, following a UN-supervised referendum on independence from Indonesia, 80 per cent of the population, or 800,000 people, fled the violence unleashed by pro-integration militias backed by the Indonesian security forces. Among them, an estimated 240,000 people, mostly pro-Indonesian Timorese, fled into neighbouring West Timor where nearly half have remained until today.  

As for those IDPs who remained in  Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor), most of them returned to their homes or moved into houses left vacant by those who had fled to West Timor. Others sought refuge in makeshift shelters, often abandoned buildings. This included some 146 families mentioned above who settled in the former Brimob (police) compound in Bairo-Pite.  

In January 2011, the authorities evicted these families. While most received compensation, it was reportedly insufficient to secure housing and land (OHCHR, November 2011).  After their eviction, the families took refuge in the Aitarak Laran site in the capital Dili, where they have remained since then, living in informal shelters as squatters, with no tenure security and at risk of eviction. In doing so, they joined hundreds of other families already living in Aitarak Laran, most of whom had moved there following the 1999 and 2006 outbreaks of violence (RMIT University Melbourne, April 2013, pp. 225-249). The settlement is considered as illegal by the government. In May 2012, eleven families from Aitarak Laran appeared in national parliament to draw attention to their plight. They claimed that they had been evicted by the police without any prior notification or compensation and they asked the parliament to address the problem (Radio TL, 25 May 2012). 

Displacement following the 2006 unrest in Dili

In 2006, an estimated 150,000 people were displaced when their homes and property in the capital Dili were seized or destroyed during violence. The causes included political rivalries and land disputes dating back to the struggle for independence, divisions between “easterners” and “westerners” within the new state, as well as chronic poverty and the lack of job prospects.

 In 2010, the government of East Timor closed the last camps and reported that there were no more IDPs in the country. While the government’s strategy to rapidly close the last camps in 2010 and to pay compensation to the remaining residents proved successful, by 2012 it remained unclear whether cash grants offered to IDPs had contributed to the sustainable recovery of returnees or those who settled elsewhere. There were also concerns related to the capacity of communities to reintegrate IDPs and resolve land disputes in the absence of a national framework on land and property (IDMC, 9 December 2009).  

With support from international organisation such as IOM or UNDP, the government made also significant efforts to address tensions in the areas of return through dialogue and trust-building initiatives to promote reconciliation.  In 2012, IOM described the government’s strategy as “a remarkably efficient and effective way of ending a displacement crisis in, what so far at least appears to be, a durable manner” (IOM, 13 June 2012, p.43).  

IDMC uses only the most credible accurate information available. Notwithstanding the caveats and limitations of the source information described above, IDMC believes this to be the best data and is grateful to the partners for sharing it.