Subject: AGE: 10 years on, Timorese denied asylum

The Age

10 years on, Timorese denied asylum

September 26 2002 By Sophie Douez Canberra

The Federal Government yesterday denied refugee claims to 168 East Timorese who fled the then-Indonesian territory seeking asylum in Australia almost a decade ago.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said that in the first decisions on about 1700 East Timorese refugee applications, none was granted approval to stay in Australia.

A decision on the remaining applications, which were being processed, would be delivered in the next few months, he said.

Most of the group fled strife-torn East Timor in the 1990s, particularly after Indonesian soldiers massacred about 200 mourners in a funeral procession at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery in November 1991.

Many came to Australia on tourist visas and have lived and worked in the community while awaiting the outcome of their refugee claims.

Labor and East Timorese activist groups immediately called on the government to create a visa class to allow the asylum seekers to stay in Australia.

"It is reasonable to expect people who are found not to be refugees and so do not have a well-founded fear of persecution to return home when their country is safe and secure," Mr Ruddock said.

"In any event, the resolution of these applications allows these asylum seekers to move on with their lives."

The 168 people who have been refused the right to stay in Australia have 28 days to appeal against the decision through the Refugee Review tribunal. Mr Ruddock said decisions were made on a case-by-case basis.

The convenor of the Australian East Timorese Association of New South Wales, Andy McNaughtan, said allowing the asylum seekers to stay in Australia would help cement East Timor's stability, as there was little for them to return to there.

"Timor is in a very economically depressed and difficult position in which it cannot, at this stage, provide employment for people," Mr McNaughtan said. "People's families in Australia can give some kind of support to their families and help stabilise and support Timor. If they go home, they'll probably join the large body of unemployed with difficult immediate prospects."

Labor's immigration spokeswoman Julia Gillard said the East Timorese asylum seekers deserved special consideration from the government because most had lived in Australia for more than a decade.

"They fled real persecution, the delay in the resolution of their claims was due to the actions of the Australian government, they have lived for a very extended period of time in Australia and many have no real on-going connection with their former homeland," Ms Gillard said.

Activist Shirley Shackleton, whose husband Greg was one of five journalists murdered at Balibo in 1975, said the East Timorese asylum seekers were now "Aussies" because they had lived here for so long.

She questioned the government's conclusion that children born in Australia to East Timorese asylum seekers were East Timorese and had no greater rights than their parents.

"Is there some sort of mean legislation that they rushed through with the Tampa legislation?" Mrs Shackleton asked.

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