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Supporting All Faiths in Timor-Leste

Thursday 8 June, 2006

Supporting All Faiths in Timor-Leste

Momira and her mother Ferdra were one of the last families in their neighbourhood to leave, before going to the mosque.

DILI, TIMOR-LESTE – Caritas Australia including CEO Jack de Groot, recently paid a visit to the Masjid An-nur mosque to deliver cooking oil, tinned fish and instant noodles to the 50 families sheltering there. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) had visited earlier in the week to drop off mosquito nets, soap and women’s kits.

Bedding inside mosque - Clothes, bedding and cooking utensils are stacked neatly around the edge of the second floor of the mosque – a temporary home as people remain too scared to return to their neighbourhoods.

In a country where over 90 percent of the population are Catholic, it is easy to overlook people of other faiths. In the current conflict, no one feels safe as gangs of local youth terrorise neighbourhoods. The local Muslim population in Dili is very small and they gathered to take refuge in the local mosque. Their homes have also come under attack, not because of any religious antagonism but due to the general lawlessness pervading Dili.

It is a big complex, with a school attached. Classrooms have been cleared to make way for families; while sleeping mats, blankets, pots and pans are stacked neatly around the edges of the rooms.

Caritas Australia local staff member, Ingrid Revaug (left), Caritas Australia CEO, Jack de Groot (centre) discuss with Mr Bram (right) the needs of the IDPs at the mosque.

Mr Bram, a neighbour of a Caritas Australia staff member, shows us around. He explains that like many other IPD camps, people leave the mosque to go to their homes during the day and return at night. “We had Malaysian soldiers here earlier but they have gone and now the men keep an eye on security at night.”

He said that there are many children staying at the mosque and many of them have been sick with malaria, and colds from living in such close quarters for so long. There are also a couple of pregnant women close to term.

As we enter the mosque the high ceilings and tiled floors provide cool relief from the heat of the day. The upper level is also being used by IDP families and on the lower level prayer mats can be seen piled in a corner and one lone man can be heard praying.

Umairah says she is sad about the conflict as it means she cannot go to school.

Mr Bram introduces us to his wife, Ferdra and his youngest child, Momira a real cutie with big brown eyes. There is also his elder daughter Umairah who tells us she is sad because she cannot go to school, due to the conflict.

Outside a street vendor as entered the front courtyard and is selling vegetables to the women who have gathered around. Since the conflict street vendors have been a rare sight and plain rice at mealtimes has become the norm, leading to concerns about nutrition, especially for children.

Vege sellers outside mosque – As the time draws close to dinner, vegetable sellers come to the mosque to sell vegetables to the IDPs. A week ago the streets were empty of vendors.

As the international peace-keepers have sought to restore the city to some degree of uneasy calm, it is still unsure how long people will remain in the camps. Recent UN figures show there are now 54 camps in Dili and the nearby districts housing 70,651 DPs with the numbers showing no sign of reduction.


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