Humanitarian Access Needed in East Timor

Delay in Relief Efforts Questioned

New York/Darwin, September 21, 1999 — The international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today called upon the United Nations to take urgent measures to prioritize the transport of humanitarian cargo and personnel into East Timor. The organization questioned why nearly three days after the first multinational forces entered East Timor, the humanitarian community is still being blocked from direct access to people in need of assistance in East Timor.

MSF has 14 international medical and logistics staff and 26 metric tons of medicines, sanitation material, and shelter on stand-by in Darwin, Australia, but has yet to receive approval for transport to East Timor by air or sea. There are a reported 10,000 people in Dili and 190,000 displaced persons in the surrounding hills who are in urgent need of medical, sanitation, and shelter assistance.

"We can be operational within hours and every day matters in saving a life," says Susanne Cristofani, R.N., MSF medical coordinator in Darwin, Australia. "As a medical person it is hard to understand why for three days now dozens of journalists have been transported by the UN and military planes and we have to sit here and wait when we know there are thousands of people in need of medical assistance."

Before being expelled from East Timor two weeks ago, MSF was supporting health care in the districts of Liquisa and Baucau with training, rehabilitation of health facilities, and medical supplies and equipment. Until the expulsion of a surgical team from Baucau Hospital on September 7, MSF was providing the only remaining surgical services in eastern East Timor.

MSF is the world's largest independent international medical relief agency aiding victims of armed conflict, epidemics, and natural and man-made disasters, and others who lack health care due to geographic remoteness or ethnic marginalization in more than 80 countries.