Subject: SMH: 50 long-time East Timorese refugees to be expelled

Also: ABC PM - East Timorese asylum seekers to be deported

Sydney Morning Herald

Fifty long-time East Timorese refugees to be expelled

By Malcolm Brown April 28, 2005

Fifty East Timorese who came to Australia 10 years ago or more as refugees, settled in the country and sent their children to school, have now been told they are no longer wanted here - and have just 28 days to get out.

Advocates for the East Timor refugees expressed outrage yesterday, saying another 1600 of their compatriots had been allowed to stay and the decision against the 50 seemed capricious and cruel.

The Timorese, they warned, were being sent back to a country which was too poor to offer them anything and where their own children knew no other language than English.

The decision was communicated by letter and signed by the Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone.

The command involves an offer of $10,000 per family and one-way plane tickets to Dili. But those who received the letters were hardly comforted.

Francisco Martins-Maia, 42, and his wife, Luisa, had gained temporary protection after arriving with their family in 1997. Their children, Franco and Agra, have attended Liverpool High School and Romario, born in Australia, has enrolled at Liverpool Public School.

Mr Martins-Maia made optical lenses, his wife was a florist and their elder son had completed his schooling and was doing work experience in retailing. Mrs Martins-Maia said: "There is nothing for us in East Timor. We don't have a house. We don't have anything!"

Jose Goncalves, 38, of Green Valley, who arrived in 1994 and worked in a steel frame factory, said: "I want to stay. I have worked ever since I came here. I have never been in any trouble."

At St Anne's nursing home, Hunters Hill, director Maureen Scott, said another of those affected, Simon Pereira, had worked hard there for years.

Phil Glendenning, director of the Edmund Rice Centre, a Catholic social justice institute, said the expulsion directly contradicted an appeal made by the East Timorese president, Xanana Gusmao, not to send the 1600 back because East Timor could not do anything for them. "You have children here who don't speak Portuguese or the East Timor language, Tetum," Mr Glendenning said.

"There is a suggestion that three or four of these people might have been involved in drug offences but there is nothing transparent."

Elizabeth Biok, a member of the International Commission of Jurists, said: "They came out at the height of the Soeharto [former Indonesian president] violence. They have been through the refugee process and have been found to be refugees."

Sister Sue Connelly, of the Institute for East Timor Studies, said the expulsion orders might have something to do with the negotiations over offshore oil deposits.

A spokesman for Senator Vanstone said the decision on these 50 people related to "character issues".

------- ABC Online

PM - East Timorese asylum seekers to be deported

[This is the print version of story]

PM - Wednesday, 27 April , 2005 18:42:07

Reporter: Anne Barker

MARK COLVIN: A late night knock on the door has dashed the hopes of dozens of East Timorese asylum seekers who were led to believe that they could stay in Australia permanently.

About 50 East Timorese received letters insisting on their deportation within 28 days.

Most have lived in Australia for a decade or more, and many have children born here.

Yet, despite an earlier ruling allowing hundreds of East Timorese to stay for good, one group says it's been singled out without explanation.

Anne Barker reports.

ANNE BARKER: Francisco Myer (phonetic) and his family have lived in Australia for eight years. He and his wife Louisa fled East Timor in 1997 in the days when Indonesian authorities, he says, were persecuting students like them.

Like hundreds of other East Timorese, they and their three children had hoped to build their lives in Australia, but their dream came to an abrupt end last night when immigration officials knocked on their door to hand deliver a letter.

FRANCISCO MYER (phonetic): The letter say that the application is refused, and my application… my application is refused, and I must go, they send back me to… all of my family, to Timor, East Timor, and I'm waiting for 28 days only.

ANNE BARKER: Two years ago, the Federal Government granted blanket asylum to about 1,500 East Timorese who've lived in Australia for up to 12 years. But the Myers (phonetic) are among a small group excluded, supposedly on character grounds. All received letters last night signed by the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, rejecting their applications for asylum and offering airfares and $2,000 cash to help them return to East Timor.

But the letters gave no explanation for the decision, and Francisco Myer says his family has done nothing wrong.

FRANCISCO MYER (phonetic): Never. Never. I just... it's only me and my wife. My kids and all these kids do nothing.

ANNE BARKER: None of you have been in trouble?

FRANCISCO MYER (phonetic): No. No in trouble.

ANNE BARKER: One organisation that represents asylum seekers, the Edmund Rice Centre in Sydney, says it's been inundated with calls from other East Timorese who now face the prospect of deportation.

Its Director, Phil Glendenning, says most have done nothing to earn a black mark against their names.

PHIL GLENDENNING: We know that there may be some of the people, a minority, that may have failed a character test, and that's fair enough, but the vast majority, we understand, are people who, along with the other 1,600 of their compatriots who've been allowed to stay, and as Xanana Gusmao has repeatedly asked Australia not to send these people back because the situation in East Timor economically is quite dire. We don't have an answer as to why they've been asked to remove, and why they've been moved, or informed, in such a manner.

ANNE BARKER: But the Federal Government is standing by its decision. And the Acting Immigration Minister, Peter McGauran, denies the Government has gone back on its promise to the East Timorese.

PETER MCGAURAN: 97 per cent of the East Timorese have been granted permanent residency. The 50 that have been unsuccessful have failed mostly overwhelmingly on character grounds.

ANNE BARKER: But how do you decide a person's character?

PETER MCGAURAN: We look at obviously criminal records first and foremost, but other information from law enforcement agencies that are available to us.

ANNE BARKER: Some of these people are saying they've never been charged with anything, so why are they being dubbed as of bad character?

PETER MCGAURAN: Not all the 50 have failed on character grounds ­ the vast majority have. Of those 50 who did not fail on the basis of character grounds, there are other reasons we had to take into account, and found they did not have compelling reasons to remain in Australia.

ANNE BARKER: And what are those reasons?

PETER MCGAURAN: There's a variety of them, which I don't want to specify. There are privacy issues here, and all of those cases were conscientiously and thoroughly examined on the most compassionate grounds imaginable.

MARK COLVIN: The Acting Immigration Minister, Peter McGauran, talking to Anne Barker.

© 2005 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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