Subject: AU: Timor family fights forced return

The Australian

April 21, 2003 Monday All-round Country Edition

East Timor family fights forced return

Megan Saunders

AMI is only six, but she knows her family is at crisis point.

"What have we done wrong?" the youngest of five children asked her mother as the family fought to remain in Australia.

"I said to her: 'I don't know, darling' and she starts crying," says her mother, Teresinha Maia.

Ami's family fled to Australia from East Timor in 1994. After living in Sydney for more than eight years on bridging visas, they now face being forced to go back.

Teresinha's mother and sister were killed by Indonesian forces during the 1975 occupation of East Timor, while her father went missing and is presumed dead after attending a memorial at Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery, where 200 people were massacred in 1991.

Her Chinese Timorese husband, Chung Chong Lee, was also at the memorial. He survived but was beaten and imprisoned by Indonesian forces in the aftermath of the massacre and again in 1994. At the end of 1994 the family fled to Australia.

There are 1600 others like them, a group of asylum-seekers that Labor, refugee groups and East Timor President Xanana Gusmao argue should be given special consideration and allowed to stay in Australia.

For Ami, who was born in Australia, going to East Timor means going to a country with which she has little association. For her brothers and sisters -- Miguel, 8, Francelina, 10, Fernando, 13, and Francisco, 15 -- it means leaving their schools, friends and the country where they have spent most of their lives.

A few weeks ago things went from bad to worse when the Refugee Review Tribunal rejected their case, as was expected, because their applications were processed after East Timor became an independent nation.

The family has now appealed directly to Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock to use his discretion. Mr Ruddock has resisted pressure to create a special visa class to deal with the group, and has said he will deal with each matter "case by case".

The family has been told a final answer may take 12 months. In the meantime, they don't even have enough money to eat. Their asylum-seeker entitlements, worth about $870 a fortnight, ceased without warning on the loss of the tribunal case.

They now have to rely on charity for their food because Teresinha's job doing laundry in an inner-city nursing home earns the family a meagre $330 a week, of which $210 goes to rent their home in Cabramatta, southwest Sydney.

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