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At a glance: Timor-Leste

Creating child-friendly spaces for Timorese children still displaced by civil unrest

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2007/See
A girl reads from a UNICEF-provided book at a designated child-friendly space in Obrigado Barracks, Dili.

By Bridgette See

DILI, Timor-Leste, 5 July 2007 – For over a year now, 13-year-old Zaquel Pinto and his cousins have been living in the Obrigado Barracks, a displacement camp set up in a parking lot. They fled their home in May 2006, after widespread violence broke out in the country’s capital.

The parking lot, which stands opposite the United Nations compound in Dili, was transformed into a camp for 7,000 people at the height of the crisis. About 800 people remain here today – their tents now augmented by plywood doors, beds and cupboards salvaged from their old homes. An estimated 100,000 Timorese are still displaced by violence, some 30,000 of them in Dili itself.

“This place has really become like a home, a community, but it’s not our choice,” said Maria Filomena Belo, a UNICEF child protection staff member who lives at the camp. “Many of us have tried to return to our old homes or relocate, but have returned after a few weeks because we felt intimidated.”

Children affected by violence

Following civil unrest last year, Timor-Leste split between the eastern and western parts of the country. Soldiers fled with weapons into the mountains, where they remain a threat to security, leaving many Timorese unsure of what the future holds.

Children were not spared by the violence. Because his family came from the east, Zaquel was accosted by his own schoolmates and nearly stabbed in the stomach when he attempted to attend school last year.

“As they were about to stab me, a woman shouted at them, and I managed to escape,” Zaquel recalled. “But someone still managed to hurt me in the stomach with a pen and tear my shirt.”

Now, he attends school in a neighbourhood that is considered a safe haven for easterners.

© UNICEF Timor-Leste/2007/See
Children play next to a tent in the Obrigado Barracks displacement camp that was once a parking lot.

‘We really like it here’

A general calm has returned to Dili but sporadic violence still occurs. Due to the cramped living conditions in the camps, physical and sexual abuse may occur, especially for women and girls.

To help ease this sense of uncertainty and protect Timorese children from psychological distress, child protection teams have been set up in camps such as the Obrigado Barracks. Child-friendly spaces have been established and children have been provided with sports and recreation equipment. UNICEF has contributed 161 recreation kits (including items such as footballs, skipping ropes and volleyballs), 116 boxes of wooden building blocks and 500 hand puppets to help children take their minds off the stressful situation.

At the Obrigado Barracks camp, a group of children gathered recently under a large leafy tree, in a child-friendly space where they are supervised by child protection staff. “We really like it here because can play volleyball, sing songs, and also read books,” said Vitoria Da Costa, 11.

Francisca Amaral, 10, agreed. “We don’t think so much about what’s happening outside when we come here to play,” she said.



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