Subject: GLW: Pressure grows to allow East Timorese to stay

also: Huge show of support for Timorese refugees

Green Left Weekly November 27, 2002

Pressure grows to allow East Timorese to stay

BY JON LAND

Pressure is mounting against the federal government's moves to deport 1600-1800 East Timorese asylum seekers, some of whom have been seeking refugee status for up to 10 years. At least 84 may be forced to leave by the end of December.

The claims for refugee status of many of the asylum seekers are in the final stages of appeal; a considerable number have received notification from the department of immigration stating that their claims have been rejected.

On November 19, the Senate passed a motion passed calling on the minister for immigration, Phillip Ruddock, to grant the East Timorese asylum seekers special visas on humanitarian grounds. The motion was supported by Labor, the Democrats and the Greens senators.

The motion noted that the processing of the Timorese asylum seekers' claims for refugee status had put on hold for many years and that the Australian government had deliberately delayed final determinations. The motion also recognised that many of the applicants are suffering the effects of trauma and torture. The Senate acknowledged that many of these people have lived in Australia for up to 10 years and have become part of the Australian community.

A report in the November 18 Sydney Morning Herald revealed that an internal Refugee Review Tribunal memo issued in 1995 had referred to a moratorium on the processing of refugee applications from East Timorese. This moratorium was in place until April.

The attempts by East Timorese in 1994 and 1995 to seek refugee status came in the midst of a concerted push by the then Labor federal government to forge closer military, diplomatic and business ties with the Suharto dictatorship. Acknowledging that the East Timorese had a right to refugee status would have jeopardised this process.

Speaking on the popular ABC radio program Australia Talks Back on November 20, Andrew McNaughton, convenor for the Australia East Timor Association (NSW) explained: "Almost certainly, from all of the evidence, [the asylum seekers] would have been found to have been refugees if their claims were processed in a timely manner in the mid- to late-1990s... But because they have been held in limbo for up to 10 years or even more ... now the government says, you're not a refugee anymore, so go back."

"The bigger picture of the conditions in East Timor, of the relationship between Australia and East Timor and the fact that these people have put down roots and really weren't fairly dealt with in the first place supports a more sensible conclusion that they be allowed to stay", McNaughton said. Callers to the program unanimously supported the creation of a special humanitarian visa.

East Timorese political and community leaders have also called on Canberra to not deport the asylum seekers. In an interview on ABC radio's Asia Pacific program on November 18, East Timorese leader Jose Ramos Horta stated: "They have been in legal limbo for so many years in Australia... Most of them will return to East Timor without money, because they were not able to work, and without qualifications because they were not given the opportunity to study or to be trained. So their contribution to East Timor will be very, very negligible... They will be a burden to society here."

Church groups, human rights and solidarity organisations have pledged to step up support for the asylum seekers. A sanctuary network established in the late-1990s may be reactivated if the government moves ahead with the deportations.

Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific chairperson Max Lane, while supporting the call for special visas for the asylum seekers, believes that more should be done: “These asylum seekers, as were all the people of East Timor, are the victims of one of the most brutal wars and military occupations of the 20th century. It was backed by successive Australian governments. The least the federal government could do is to create a special visa category for all East Timorese, entitling them to full employment, study and welfare rights in Australia.”


Green Left Weekly November 27, 2002

Huge show of support for Timorese refugees

BY RUTH RATCLIFFE

DARWIN "I'm here because I don't like injustice, and I donn't like being ashamed of my country", declared Jack, one of the 250 people who attended a public meeting in support of the East Timorese asylum seekers on November 17. The meeting was the biggest event ever organised by the Refugee Action Network.

"The people we are rallying for here have contributed to the community for more than a decade. It's not fair to send them back. They are proud to be Australian and help to make Darwin a better city", another participant told Green Left Weekly.

Domingos da Silva received a letter from the immigration department stating that he, his wife and five children must leave Australia within 28 days. Da Silva told the crowd that his family wanted to remain in Australia. He said it was very hard for his children to understand why the government was forcing them to leave the only country they have ever known.

Joe Mulqueeny, a popular speaker at refugees' rights rallies, told the meeting that the East Timorese had lived in Darwin longer than he had: "Why doesn't Ruddock send me back to Ireland or my beautiful wife back to Italy but most of all why doesn't he go back to England the la land of his forebears!"

Delia Lawrie, Labor MLA for Karama, pledged that the NT Labor government would help fund the asylum seekers' legal aid and "lobby at the highest levels to obtain permanent residency for the East Timorese". Lawrie's pledges were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd.

The final speaker was Jose Gusmao, who thanked the people of Darwin for their support for the Timorese cause.


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