East Timor: Minister laments ‘isolated’ acts of intimidation of foreigners

East Timor’s minister of legislative reform and parliamentary affairs on Monday expressed regret at what she said were “isolated” cases of intimidation of foreign nationals in the country because of the misperception that Covid-19 is a disease carried by foreigners.

“I am very sorry to hear of these things happening,” the minister, Fidelis Magalhães, told Lusa. “The government will make every effort to contain and end these isolated acts.

“We have to encourage and promote more the spirit of solidarity, especially in the face of these difficult issues,” she said.

Several foreign nationals have in recent days reported to Lusa incidents, none of them serious, in which they were intimidated by locals, including the use of the expression “corona malae”, the second word being most commonly used in Timor to refer to foreigners.

On Sunday several Chinese traders in East Timor felt obliged to close their shops due to intimidation, despite the fact that the Chinese business community in Timor had organised a fundraiser to support families affected by the 13 March floods in the capital.

Similar intimidation was also felt in Baucau, the country’s second city, by teachers from Portugal stationed there, prompting Portugal’s ambassador to order them to go to Dili. Among reports made by teachers were some of a series of false reports and rumours circulating over the weekend that tried to relate the first confirmed case of Covid-19 and another suspected case related to Baucau.

“Those who have lived in Timor for many years and who come here and then come back, maintaining a strong bond and a special love for Timor for a long time, know that the Timorese are not an anti-foreigner people, on the contrary,” said Magalhães.

Timor-Leste so far has just one confirmed case of Covid-19.