Subject: Australia sends East Timorese refugees sent home

The Australian 8 November 99

Aliens sent home


EAST Timorese refugees are already being sent back to their war-ravaged homeland ­ a month before their visas expire.

The decision has been branded premature and heartless by authorities working with refugees at Puckapunyal army base.

One refugee yesterday told the Herald Sun she was worried about going back to a country which lacked sanitary conditions, running water, housing and adequate health care.

The woman, who was forced to flee East Timor after her home was burned, said she wanted to stay at least until her health improved but had been told she would have to leave soon.

Fifty East Timorese were due to leave Puckapunyal today, and more will follow in similar numbers each day this week.

The refugees all received temporary safe haven visas expiring on December 14.

Maureen McCarty, from the Mercy Private Hospital, said only half the children aged under five had been properly examined and many were still suffering from health problems.

Another refugee yesterday said while she wanted to go home, she felt it was too early.

"I wanted to take this opportunity to get new skills to go back with, but we have had such a short time here, I feel like I have missed my chance," she said.

"I think the feeling among the refugees is 'what is the real reason for wanting to hurry us up and send us back early?"'

Health authorities said plans to set up health education programs had now been dashed.

The legal fraternity has also expressed concern at the decision.

One Melbourne lawyer, who declined to have his name published, said lawyers had not had the chance to get statements from refugees to be used at an international war crimes tribunal.

He said lawyers had been unable to get access to the refugees, and the chance was slipping away.

However, a spokeswoman from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs yesterday said no refugee had been pressured to leave.

Jenny Hoskin said the department had been assured by the United Nations the country was safe for people to return and many East Timorese already had.

"People are volunteering to go back," she said.

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