Subject: Shock over rejection of East Timor refugees

Catholic Weekly (Sydney)

Shock over rejection of East Timor refugees

By Marilyn Rodrigues 8 May, 2005

Catholic advocates for East Timorese asylum seekers are shocked and disappointed that some have had their residency applications rejected on unnamed "serious character grounds".

More than 1400 East Timorese asylum seekers who came to Australia in the early to mid 1990s have been given permanent residency.

But 50 others were given $2000 repatriation money and 28 days to leave the country. Some of them have had children born here, who know no other home.

The Department of Immigration says the decision has been made because of character issues.

Josephite Sr Susan Connolly believes the decision was timed to deflect attention from Australia's negotiations with East Timor over oil and gas resources.

She said the East Timorese in question "are so upset and bewildered that these accusations are being made against their characters and they are not told what they are".

She added: "If they are so serious that these people should not be allowed to live among us, then why haven't they been charged?"

Sr Susan, assistant director of the Mary MacKillop Institute for East Timorese Studies, says the decision seems arbitrary.

"I feel so sorry for those people who have had their names blackened on national TV," she said.

"A lot of them have family members here who have been given permanent residency.

"One family; a mother, father and their four children have been told to go. All their family on both sides have been given permanent residency. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason about it.

"They do have a chance of appealing again to the Minister for Immigration. But if they do the decision won't be given within the 28-day period by which they must leave Australia.

"If they make the appeal, it's not guaranteed to succeed, and the government is not obligated to give them a bridging visa, so they are looking at possibly going into detention.

"So they are in a bind, do they take the money and run, or take their chances with an appeal?

"There has to be a public uproar."

Phil Glendenning, director of the Edmund Rice Centre, said the East Timorese asylum seekers have been a part of the Australian community for 10 years.

"That is an appalling length of time to take to deal with peoples' claims for asylum", he said.

"Many have families here, have married here and have had children born here, and have been working and paying taxes in this country.

"They have been in Australia for a decade with minimal support and living with the daily uncertainty of not knowing what will happen to them.

"Xanana Gusmao has appealed that Australia allow the East Timorese to stay at least until his country is on its feet economically, which is clearly not today".

Bishop David Cremin, former episcopal vicar for immigration, said he was deeply disappointed to hear the news.

"If there is no good reason, no crimes involved or anything like that, than I will be very saddened and disappointed to see them go," he said.

"The East Timorese are beautiful people, really lovely people."

Fr Jason Camilleri of Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Fairfield, says a number of the East Timorese asylum seekers have made the parish their home.

"They are very much part of the parish," he said.

"This news is a great shock and very disappointing. They are a very generous part of our community and very gentle people. It seems very unjust and to have this come up so suddenly is a terrible thing."

Sr Susan said there is little in East Timor for the asylum seekers to go back to.

"There is terrible hunger in East Timor, people don't hear about that, but we know from the Carmelite Sisters who are working there and tell us they have seen people dying before their eyes," she said.


Goodbye to his 'friends and mothers', but no place to go


Asylum seeker Sereneu (Simon) Pereira hated to tell his "friends and mothers" at St Anne's Nursing Home, Hunters Hill, that he faces having to leave them and go back to East Timor.

"They are all upset," he said.

"I'm here every day, I work here five days a week but sometimes I'm here for seven.

"They are my friends, many of the women here are (religious) sisters but the ones who aren't I call them my mothers."

Sereneu was 19 when he came to Australia 11 years ago, and has worked as a carer at the nursing home for six years. He is one of five employees who came as refugees from East Timor, and three of them are now permanent residents.

Maureen Scott, the director of residential care, can't understand why Sereneu has been denied residency.

"He is a very valued staff member and he has established great relationships with all the staff and the residents," she said.

"For some of our residents he is the only person who can get them to do things, he has such a rapport with them. It is absolutely terrible, it will be a big loss to St Anne's."

Sereneu has no plans.

"If I go back I will leave many friends behind," he says. "I will have to start from zero again. I have no place to go."

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