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East Timor: Dili General Hospital - more than free medical care

11-11-1999 News Release 99/45

The ICRC-supported General Hospital in Dili receives up to 150 patients every day. Besides providing free emergency health care for the city's population, it serves as a referral hospital for all of East Timor. It also provides medical assistance for those returning to East Timor from their places of refuge, mainly West Timor.

Long after dark the ferries of the International Organization for Migration and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees docked at Dili harbour continue to let off hundreds of returnees from the camps in West Timor. And every night up to 15 patients are admitted to the General Hospital's emergency room.

Medical care is extremely difficult to obtain in the camps, and after a long and harrowing journey by road and by sea the returnees show signs of exhaustion. Many come with old wounds and chronic illnesses. Each patient is immediately seen by a doctor, given medical care and kept under observation until the morning.

Those who come seeking medical attention are generally accompanied by similarly exhausted family members. As is the custom here, once the patient is admitted the relatives settle down for the night in the hospital compound, where they meet people who remained in East Timor during the recent turmoil or who returned earlier. They swap stories about their struggle to survive in the forests and their search for safety in West Timor. They also obtain information concerning those who arrived in Dili before them and have left for their home towns.

Some returnees bear precious news of relatives and friends who are still in the camps for the displaced in West Timor. At the ICRC tracing office, which is situated in the hospital compound, such news helps people determine where their loved ones are and thus speeds up the delivery of Red Cross messages.

Over 14,000 messages have been collected so far, mainly in East and West Timor, and are being delivered to people separated by the events which followed East Timor's vote for independence. The local network for the collection and distribution of Red Cross messages has also been reactivated in the towns of Baucau, Liquica, Los Palos, Viqueque, Ainaro and Same (East Timor) and in Kupang and Atambua (West Timor).