Subject: ABC: Refugees seek to remain in Australia

EAST TIMOR: Refugees seek to remain in Australia

13/02/2003 11:41:33 | Asia Pacific Programs

Hundreds of refugees from East Timor are appealing to Australia's Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock not to deport them. When thousands of East Timorese fled massacre and bloodshed in Dili a decade ago, a group of 1650 built a new life in Australia after they were granted protection visas by the goverment. But now Canberra says East Timor is safe and they should return home.


MASCALL: These children from an inner Melbourne Primary School call themselves Australian. But in the eyes of Australian law, one in every three of them is classed as East Timorese. Born in Australia or brought here as babies, their families have held Australian protection visas - after they fled massacres and bloodshed under Indonesian rule and became refugees. Now the Australian government wants to send them back.

For their headmaster Peter Lord it means one in every seven of his pupils may be deported.

LORD: They have no connection with East Timor, they have no experience of it, it is not their home, Australia is their home. They would go back to a country where there's no employment for their parents, where the economy is in ruins, where 90 percent of the primary schools were destroyed by the departing Indonesians and they would go from a modern Australian school, to a situation that would be totally foreign to them, the trauma would be dramatic and I think we could never, should never put children in such a situation.

MASCALL: Peter Lord is adding his voice to a growing campaign. At this prayer service in eastern Melbourne, mayors from five suburbs united with religious leaders, community groups and East Timorese to call on the Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to allow them to stay.

Sue - the Mayor of Melbourne's City of Yarra says many of the East Timorese should be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds, since they've lived here for so long.

CORBY: Now within the sorts of guidelines that the minister can consider there are very sensible matters that include length of stay in Australia; we're talking about people who have mortgages, who have had children, who are going to our primary schools, our kinders, our high schools. We're actually talking about people who have been here for about a decade. So to us it is not unreasonable that when our community asks us to advocate and represent their interests that in fact this is what we are trying to clearly do. So we're really concerned, this is our community, these our people and we're here with them today.

MASCALL: Twenty-eight year old Fivo Frietas is one of those affected. But he says he's going nowhere. He received his deportation notice just five days after he was awarded 'Young Australian of the Year' for his service to the Australian and East Timorese communities.

FRIETAS: Well I'm Australian of the Year but I'm still asylum-seekers (laughs).

MASCALL: So you're East Timorese but you feel Australian and you've been recognised as an Australian by your community?

FRIETAS: For sure, that's a 100 per cent correct. Most of my time here I'm working to help the community in diversity, to integrate my people to this society and to this community, let them settle in here.

MASCALL: What are your chances? Do you think Mr Ruddock will allow you to stay?

FRIETAS: Well I hope so, we have a lot of support. My people in here already integrate their lives, themselves, so please let them stay, there are a part of Australia. So they're working here, they play football, they play cricket, a lot of East Timorese, young people, they are born here, you know? So they reckon oh, "I'm an Aussie," but the government doesn't recognise, (and say) you're not Ausssie. So what can happen, what can happen, their kids sent back to Timor and they're not born in Timor, they're born in Australia.

MASCALL: Australia's East Timorese accept that many of them will have to go back to Timor eventually. The precedent has been set - refugees from Kosovo fleeing oppression by Serbia were only allowed to stay in Australia on a temporary basis. But East Timor's consul to Australia - Abel Gutteres says sending them back now is not the right time.

GUTTERES: We do respect Australian government's decision, its policies and its laws, that is Australia's sovereign right to make those decisions. We simply express that East Timor government is in no position economically to receive these people back at this point in time.

MASCALL: When do you think East Timor would be in a position to receive these people back?

GUTTERES: Well if all goes well after 10 years time we may be able to?

MASCALL: So another 10 years is what you're saying at least?

GUTTERES: Well that's what we're hoping for, but again it all depends on how East Timor economy will evolve.

(ANTHEM) MASCALL: As the prayer service draws to a close the East Timorese sing Australia's national anthem - an anthem they've come to regard as their own. But the words ring hollow. There's little rejoicing here. The atmosphere is one of sorrow - that 1650 people may be forced to leave a country they've come to consider their home.

Transcripts from programs "AM", "The World Today", "PM", the "7:30 Report" and "Lateline" are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

13/02/2003 11:41:33 | Asia Pacific Programs

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