The 2006 crisis in Timor-Leste saw close to 15 per cent of the population displaced from their homes, threatening to sink the country into protracted instability and violence. Remarkably, less than five years later, the country looks to be back on track, with the internal displacement file from 2006 largely resolved. This study examines the National Recovery Strategy adopted by the Government of Timor-Leste to address the crisis, including the move towards a cash grant programme, and analyses the strengths and weaknesses of national and local measures taken to provide solutions to the displaced. In doing so, the author connects the case of Timor-Leste to the wider debate on displacement, durable solutions and transitional justice, and offers important conclusions for practitioners from each of these perspectives.
The reflection on the experience of displacement in Timor-Leste suggests rethinking approaches for dealing with displacement in urban settings, a growing global phenomenon. The Timorese case further illustrates how return can prove successful if a government provides the necessary will, resources and effort – proffering a cautionary tale against recent criticism suggesting that the preference for return curtails the development of other, perhaps more sustainable, solutions. Contributing to discussions regarding the potential and pitfalls of cash grants, the author argues that cash grants in Timor-Leste were not only pragmatically desirable but also preferred by the displaced themselves, thus playing a central role in more immediate reconstruction efforts. Finally, the Timorese experience addresses the topic of transitional justice and displacement, encouraging consideration of the distinction between two modes of delivering benefits to victims of forced displacement: reparations as a remedy for past injustice and part of a transitional justice process versus benefits that are part of humanitarian assistance efforts and intended to form the basis of access to human, social and economic rights. By touching upon these key issues that dominate the contemporary debate on durable solutions, the analytical framework of this study reaches far beyond the Timorese national context.