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Subject: AFP: Australian court victory for E Timor refugees
Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 07:41:23 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <etan@etan.org>

Agence France Presse October 30, 1998 04:33 GMT

Australian court victory for more than 1,300 East Timor refugees MELBOURNE, Australia, Oct 30 Agence-France Press

More than 1,300 East Timorese asylum seekers on Friday won the right to appeal an Australia Refugee Review Tribunal decision stating they were legally Portugese nationals.

In a landmark case, a Federal Court judge ruled Lay Kon Tji was free to appeal against a decision denying him official refugee status on the grounds he was Portuguese and should be sent there rather than granted political asylum in Australia.

Judge Ray Finkelstein said the tribunal erred in its findings that the Portuguese nationality of the applicant was an "effective nationality." He called on the parties involved to address the matter before he formulated how it was to go back to the tribunal.

East Timor, a former Portugese colony, was invaded by the Indonesian military in 1975 and annexed the following year in a move never recognised by the United Nations but acknowledged by Australia.

Thousands of East Timorese have fled the province, in which independent estimates have said hundreds of thousands of people have died violently or through deprivation of food and medicine.

Many have lived in Australia for up to seven years, uncertain of their future.

Representatives from Australia's East Timorese community, many of whom were in the court, said the judgment clearly signalled others could now appeal tribunal decisions.

The judgement, they said, affected 1,350 people in Australia -- 1,100 in Melbourne and the others in Darwin and Sydney.

Catholic Bishop and East Timorese activist Hilton Deakin said the community was pleased and the decision was good news for all the asylum seekers. "There are 1,352 asylum seekers and each of them and all of them is somehow affected by this," he said.

"One of the effects at the moment is that the issue is still alive and that they've got a sense of hope about it, and that's terribly important." A spokesman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the department was studying the judgement and would not comment until it was appraised. Lisbon has previously blocked Canberra's attempts to deport East Timorese refugees saying Portuguese nationality laws were "not designed to force the assimilation of East Timorese people into the Portuguese state but to positively provide them with a ... free choice."

They noted it was ironic that although Australia recognised East Timor's integration, when it came to granting them protection it considered them to be Portugese.

Church groups here have vowed to hide the refugees from authorities if they face deportation.

mp/cf

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