Subject: AU: Hearts at home for Timor voters abroad
Date: Sun, 18 Jul 1999 08:33:07 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Australian 12 July 99

Hearts at home for Timor voters abroad


POLITICAL activists working door-to-door in the East Timorese diaspora take it for granted that almost everyone who votes in next month's scheduled ballot will reject Indonesian-governed autonomy and opt for independence.

The campaign outside East Timor has therefore concentrated on ensuring a high turnout of eligible voters – two-thirds of whom live in Australia – on polling day.

This is a significant challenge. In the absence of reliable documentation or ethnic community organisation, East Timorese in Sydney, Lisbon, Maputo, Surabaya and a dozen other cities around the world are in many cases being tracked down, family by family.

There is no such thing as an East Timorese passport. Some prospective voters still fear for their lives and remain in hiding. Others fled their homeland without identifying documents, such as birth certificates, that would render them eligible to vote.

Many are under the misapprehension that, as citizens of Australia or Portugal, they are disqualified from taking part in the referendum, scheduled for next month.

The confusion increases each time the UN orders another delay in the vote – as happened on the weekend, with Secretary-General Kofi Annan announcing registration would open Friday rather than tomorrow, as had been scheduled.

For activists such as Estanislau da Silva and Filomena de Almeida, working with the main East Timorese movement, Fretilin, this means, in addition to initiating contact with each of the 8000 East Timorese in Sydney, they have to revisit those with whom they have already discussed voting arrangements at public meetings or home visits.

"We think we've covered at least 80 per cent of the people here," said Mr da Silva, who is Fretilin's chief representative in Australia.

"We go door-to-door when we have their addresses and ask them to call relatives and other people they know for meetings so we can explain the details and documents they need for registration."

It was the turn yesterday of the Tchen family, in Sydney's west, to answer Fretilin's knock on the door.

The Tchens, in common with about half the East Timorese community in Sydney, are of mixed Chinese-Timorese descent. They fled as a result of the 1974 civil war and settled in NSW in 1981.

"We would like to return," said Antoninho Tchen, a factory worker, who said he hoped the ballot would deliver the peace and stability necessary to persuade the family back to their homeland.

The Australian Electoral Commission is establishing registration centres for the historic ballot.

Carl Wydeman, the deputy AEC officer for NSW, said an estimated 20,000 East Timorese lived in Australia – 8000 in Sydney, 6000 to 8000 in Melbourne, 3000 to 5000 in Darwin, and 1000 in Perth. East Timorese groups in Australia estimate a further 10,000 of their people live in Indonesia, Portugal, Mozambique and Macau.

Back to July Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99