Timor-Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta marked the closure of closure of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Thursday and pledged his country wouldn't turn its back on refugees because so many of his fellow citizens were exiles themselves, the United Nations said Friday in a release.
"We are always ready to live up to our responsibilities," said Ramos-Horta, who was a refugee in the United States and Australia from 1975 to 1999. "That's the best way to thank UNHCR and all the countries that all these years have assisted our refugees."
UNHCR opened its Dili office in May 1999, just before the violent referendum on independence from Indonesia that saw nearly 250,000 people flee across the island into West Timor. The U.N. agency helped 220,000 refugees return home.
James Lynch, UNHCR's regional coordinator for Southeast Asia, praised the country's impressive achievements.
"Even though right now it has almost no refugees or asylum-seekers, it does have national laws in effect to process their claims," he said.