Subject: ABC: PM urged to give special visas to 1,600 East Timorese

also: Labor visas plan for East Timorese

Australian Broadcasting Corporation March 6, 2003

PM urged to give special visas to 1,600 East Timorese

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks has written to Prime Minister John Howard for a third time, in an effort to secure permanent residency for 1,600 East Timorese people who have been living in Australia since fleeing their home in 1989.

The group left East Timor under threat of torture, but their application for refugee status was frozen by the Federal Government.

Today, a bill to amend Australia's migration laws will come before the Senate.

The Federal Labor Party says the government should allow the small group of East Timorese people to remain permanently in the country.

Labor will call in the Senate for an East Timorese special humanitarian visa.

Mr Bracks says many East Timorese people have made their home in Victoria, and the state would be willing to offer help if they are allowed to stay.

"We can easily accommodate and support them, the State Government will assist and support if they get permanent resident status," he said.

"I'm yet to receive a reply from the Prime Minister, I think this is a simple matter, an important matter and one which he should act on immediately."

Federal Labor immigration spokeswoman Julia Gillard says the Opposition also will call again for the release of all children from detention.

"Under Labor's amendment, unaccompanied children would be in foster families or in appropriate community care arrangements, which might be auspiced by churches or appropriate non-government organisations," she said.

The Age March 6, 2003

Labor visas plan for East Timorese

By Meaghan Shaw

Nearly 1600 East Timorese asylum seekers could be given permanent residency if an attempt by Labor to amend proposed migration laws is successful.

Labor wants the Federal Government to create a special humanitarian visa class for the East Timorese, who fled their homeland more than a decade ago but had their applications for asylum frozen in 1995 after the Government questioned whether Portugal was obliged to give them refuge. Processing of their claims resumed last June.

Opposition Leader Simon Crean said the East Timorese were a special case. They would have been given refugee status if their claims had been considered at the time they were made.

But a spokesman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the Government would not give the East Timorese a special visa because it would discriminate against other nationalities.

Opposition immigration spokeswoman Julia Gillard said the special visa would have strict terms to ensure it applied only to the East Timorese whose claims were frozen.

An Immigration Department spokeswoman said 1095 East Timorese had been refused asylum; 500 awaited a decision and 147 had been granted a visa.

Labor also intends to compel the Government to remove children from detention centres by amending Government legislation in the Senate. Mr Crean said Mr Ruddock had done nothing on it.

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