Subject: HeraldSun: Call to rethink refugee deportation

Herald Sun

Call to rethink refugee deportation By NADIA MIRAUDO 05apr03

EAST Timor president Xanana Gusmao has urged the Australian Government to reconsider its attempts to deport 1600 East Timorese refugees.

Mr Gusmao said he was unhappy that the Government wanted to deport the refugees, many of whom were born in Australia after their families fled the Indonesian-controlled region in the 1990s.

The asylum-seekers face expulsion after the Government decided to review their refugee status in light of the changed circumstances in East Timor.

Visiting Melbourne this week, Mr Gusmao said his country was incapable of taking the extra people as he was already trying to help settle 30,000 refugees from West Timor.

"I am not angry, just unhappy," Mr Gusmao said. "We are not saying we don't want these people back. The problem is that we are not able to feed them or give shelter to them.

"East Timor is the poorest country in Asia and among the 10 poorest in the world.

"This is a problem, not because we don't want them and not because we are demanding new policies from the Australian Government but if they understood our situation, they would allow them to stay.

"I believe Prime Minister John Howard and Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock understand this and will reconsider."

Mr Gusmao said while his argument against the Federal Government's decision was based on his country's inability to take the refugees, he questioned why those who were born in Australia were not considered citizens.

"We have this law as a new nation," Mr Gusmao said.

"If an Indonesian that was born in East Timor wanted to come back into the country, I cannot deny him access. It's a human right."

Mr Gusmao stopped short of saying the Australian Government's decision violated human rights.

In November, Mr Ruddock said East Timor was now safe for the refugees to return.

But Mr Gusmao, who was awarded an honorary doctorate from Victoria University on Tuesday in recognition of his service to his people, said he would invite Mr Ruddock to visit East Timor to see first hand the struggles facing the country.

He said he was thankful for all the help his country had received but believed it was important to put the money into perspective.

"In 2000, we spent $US14 million ($23.3 million) to rebuild schools but we could only do two-thirds of the schools," he said.

"Many of our people have no shelter. Many are still living under the plastic covers issued by the UN."

Ann Duffield, spokeswoman for Mr Ruddock, said the Government was still considering the issue.

Ms Duffield said Mr Ruddock understood the issues facing the new nation and had the capacity to intervene to allow some refugees to stay. She said he would be thrilled to take up Mr Gusmao's invitation.

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