Subject: ABC: President urges Australia to allow refugees to stay

[note: Gusmao comments on Timor Leste's proposed immigration law toward the end of the interview]

EAST TIMOR: President urges Australia to allow refugees to stay 27/03/2003 13:33:13 | Asia Pacific Programs

http://www.abc.net.au/

Listen http://www.abc.net.au/ra/asiapac/programs/m568823.asx

East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao has made a personal appeal to Australia's Prime Minister John Howard on behalf of almost 2,000 East Timorese refugees living in Australia. Most fled East Timor at the time of the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili in 1991 and have established lives in Australia. But Australia no longer regards them as legitimate asylum seekers and insists they return home now that East Timor is independent. President Gusmao says the government's attitude lacks compassion.

Transcript:

SNOWDON: President Xanana Gusmao, on what he calls a personal visit to Australia, nevertheless had a message for the Prime Minister John Howard during a speech he gave in Sydney.

GUSMAO: "I appeal to the sensibility of the Australian authorities, in particular to the Prime Minister of the difficult problem of East Timor and East Timorese in Australia. I believe there is a need to consider a new status for them with a possibility of being allowed to a welcomed stay in Australia.

"One thousand and 6-hundred Timorese living in Australia will not incur great hardship on the Australia economy."

SNOWDON: Sixteen hundred East Timorese living in Australia, having fled Indonesian and militia violence, have been told they must return home now that East Timor is independent and safe.

Many have been in Australia for ten years or more, some have married, some were even born here.

Most feel they have more links in Australia than in East Timor and significant community support is behind them, and as Xanana Gusmao points out, East Timor, where almost half the people live on one Australian dollar a day, is not at a stage of economic development to offer them jobs, welfare or even housing.

GUSMAO: "These 1,600 Timorese will merely constitute another 1,600 mouths to be fed. Dozens of more families that we are unable to shelter."

SNOWDON: Following Australia's tougher stance generally on asylum seekers, the government doesn't want to offer special visas which might be taken advantage of - either by undeserving East Timorese or the 13,000 unlawful asylum seekers it says are in the country.

Earlier this week, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock conceded however, there might be cases where he could use his discretion to allow some to stay.

RUDDOCK: "If you have a person who has substantial links with Australia, and particularly an Australian citizen or permanent resident and that might be in a spouse relationship, and in particularly if there are children of that relationship and the children would be Australian citizens, I think cases of that sort will be very compelling."

SNOWDON: The minister's office today added those with well founded fears of persecution would also have their applications considered on a case by case basis, and an official representation from President Gusmao would also be considered.

President Gusmao says the Australian government's tough line lacks compassion. He wants all the 1,600 to stay at least temporarily, until East Timor gets on its feet economically - and that's unlikely to be be soon.

But his country's own immigration policy is coming in for flack itself. The draft law is currently before parliament and foreigners working for non-governmment organisations claim the proposed law has draconian provisions aimed at them.

Among them, foreigners would be banned from any political activity - a vague, catch-all provision which could be read as marching in an anti-war demonstration in Dili.

East Timor has benefited from the support of many Australians and other foreigners during the hard times and even now and some are feeling unappreciated.

Xanana Gusmao says he's yet to see the draft bill and its not necessarily going to get his automatic stamp of approval.

GUSMAO: "I believe that we can talk more about this. We are beginning and I believe what you raise will be a matter for public debate."

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.

27/03/2003 13:33:13 | Asia Pacific Programs Listen

http://www.abc.net.au/ra/asiapac/programs/m568823.asx

East Timor's President Xanana Gusmao has made a personal appeal to Australia's Prime Minister John Howard on behalf of almost 2,000 East Timorese refugees living in Australia. Most fled East Timor at the time of the Santa Cruz massacre in Dili in 1991 and have established lives in Australia. But Australia no longer regards them as legitimate asylum seekers and insists they return home now that East Timor is independent. President Gusmao says the government's attitude lacks compassion.


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