Subject: SMH: Timorese Who Don't Want To Go Back

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

Sydney Morning Herald September 14, 2002 Saturday

Timorese Who Don't Want To Go Back

Nick O'malley

Fresh out of a Dili jail, Edit Horta, sister-in-law of East Timor's foreign minister, Jose Ramos Horta, island-hopped to Darwin in 1994.

She was pregnant and had an eight-year-old son in tow, but the need to escape Indonesia's oppressive rule and be reunited with her three daughters, who escaped two years earlier, kept her going.

Today she fears the Australian Government will split her family and send her and her two youngest children, Sarah, eight and Ricky, 16, back to Dili.

Her eldest children, Natasha, 22, Melissa, 20 and Carolina, 17, have already won Australian citizenship, but Mrs Horta, 43, has lived in bureaucratic limbo since her arrival in Australia.

For a time Mrs Horta, her family and 1800 other East Timorese who fled to Australia, were considered Portuguese citizens; now they are asylum seekers. Their Indonesian passports are invalid, and they have no East Timorese papers. There is no embassy to which they could apply even if they did want them. They don't.

"Why [must] I go back?" Mrs Horta asks.

"There is no home there, no medicine, no job, no school, no electricity, no water in [East Timor]. I have to start again."

Mrs Horta's life in East Timor was harsh and filled with terror. She was jailed for helping foreign journalists contact resistance fighters.

Now she has a job at a Petersham restaurant and a home in Cabramatta. She is estranged from her husband and his family, and her children speak English and would find East Timor alien.

Melissa is appalled at the thought she could lose her family. "It hasn't fully hit me yet, we are still hoping," she said.

"Sarah is fully Australian, she doesn't even speak Tetum, she has never even been [home]."

Earlier this year the Immigration Department announced the situation in East Timor had stabilised enough for it to investigate the community's claims for permanent protection, and last month the community received letters letting them know decisions were pending.

The community's leader, Carlos Pereia, says that unless the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, uses his special powers to grant them special dispensation, it is unlikely they will gain protection or residency.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Department confirmed yesterday that the community would "soon" learn if their applications had been successful, but would not specify when.

"It must be born in mind that the minister is under no obligation to use or consider using this power [special dispensation] in this particular case," she said.

"It is not unreasonable to expect people who are found not to be refugees to return home when their country is safe and secure." 

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