Subject: SMH: Timorese refugees in Australia may stay in limbo

Sydney Morning Herald April 8, 2003

Timorese refugees may stay in limbo

By Cynthia Banham

Refugee groups are claiming the Federal Government is close to making a decision on the fate of East Timorese asylum seekers that would prolong their limbo status for three to five years.

The Government has hosed down the speculation. It has come under strong pressure to let the asylum seekers, many of whom have been in Australia for a decade and have forged close community ties, remain permanently on humanitarian grounds.

Such a move has been resisted by the Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, who says making a special concession for the East Timorese would lead to pressure from other long-term temporary protection visa holders such as Afgh A Government spokesman conceded yesterday that there were more than 1000 East Timorese in Australia on temporary protection visas and the issue of their status was one that had to be dealt with by the Government.

However, he dismissed talk of an imminent decision.

But community groups working closely with East Timorese in Australia believe there are plans to create a "special assistance category" visa that would allow the asylum seekers to remain for another three to five years.

Labor, the Greens and the advocate groups oppose any such move. The Refugee Council of Australia says it would merely "prolong the agony and the uncertainty" of the East Timorese.

Of the East Timorese in Australia, the Immigration Department says 630 are children under 18, less than half of whom were born here.

According to the co-ordinator of the Ecumenical Migration Centre, Ainslie Hannan, there are Catholic schools in inner city Melbourne, where the bulk of the East Timorese community live, with classes where a third of students are East Timorese.

The Opposition immigration spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, who last month introduced an amendment to the migration legislation which would confer permanent residency on a one-off basis on the East Timorese, said Labor would not support "anything less" than a permanent solution for the group.

"As a result of government failures they've been kept in limbo for too long, and if the Government's proposal was to keep them in limbo for another three or five years, then in our view it wouldn't be enough," she said.

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