Subject: AU: No room for Timor refugees

Also: AGE: Timorese rejected for refugee visas

The Australian No room for Timor refugees By Megan Saunders 28dec01

ABOUT 1600 East Timorese who have been struggling for up to eight years to stay in Australia would not be given special consideration because refugee places are too scarce, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said yesterday.

It would not be unreasonable to send home those whose claims were rejected now the situation had changed in their homeland, Mr Ruddock said. "It could well be argued that they have had very considerable advantage over and above all their countrymen, and have been in a situation of safety and security when others were still exposed to risks," the minister told ABC radio.

"It's not unreasonable, when it's safe and secure for people who may be found not to be refugees and have had no other compelling and compassionate circumstances associated with their claims, to go home."

Refugee advocates condemned the Government's position on the claims, with some applicants still in limbo after eight years.

Immigration officials will continue processing the group who came to Australia in the wake of the Santa Cruz massacre of 1991, despite fears their applications for asylum may be frozen due to the calmer conditions in their homeland.

Their concerns arose after the Government stopped processing asylum claims from Afghans last week, following the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the announcement of an interim administration.

The Government initially challenged the right of the East Timorese to asylum, saying they had a right to Portuguese residence during the Indonesian occupation, and should go there instead.

But after one of the group successfully appealed, the Government agreed to process the claims under to the usual refugee criteria.

Boosting a call by refugee lawyer Liz Biok for special consideration for the East Timorese, Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy president Marion Le said those who wanted to stay should be given permanent residence.

"I believe the Government should now give anyone who wants it permanent residence on the grounds we stuffed around with them," Ms Le said.

"It's gone on too long, and most of it was the Government's problem in that they kept arguing on the basis the refugees were Portuguese. That was ludicrous and unfair, and really was an abuse of process."

Democrats immigration spokesman Andrew Bartlett said the situation was ridiculous, and called for the minister to use his discretion to allow permanent residence, particularly in light of Australia's presence in East Timor.

"I think there is quite a strong obligation on us to give special consideration to these people," Senator Bartlett said.

But Mr Ruddock said the fact that people chose to pursue litigation did not make the Government culpable.


The Age Timorese rejected for refugee visas By DARREN GRAY Friday 28 December 2001

More than 1600 East Timorese who came to Australia after the massacre in Dili's Santa Cruz cemetery 10 years ago are unlikely to be granted a special visa to settle permanently.

Instead, the East Timorese would have to join the queue for one of the 12,000 humanitarian refugee places made available each year, the Federal Government indicated yesterday.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said Australia and other nations had made an enormous effort to secure a safe future for the East Timorese.

"It is not unreasonable when it is safe and secure for people who may be found not to be refugees and have no other compelling compassionate circumstances associated with their claims, to go home," he told ABC radio.

But a refugee lawyer and a Sydney nun who works with the East Timorese community said the government was being unreasonable.

East Timorese in Australia became concerned about their chance of gaining refugee status when it emerged that the government had suspended the claims of Afghan asylum seekers after the demise of the Taliban regime.

Refugee lawyer Liz Biok said many of the East Timorese were young women whose husbands had been killed and who had been victims of rape, while many others came as children or in family groups. Many had been severely tortured and all had been traumatised, she said.

All 1600 had applied for refugee status, with about 40 applications rejected and the remainder not yet finalised. "I think we've got a moral obligation ... when they came they were refugees, they would have been imprisoned, they would have been tortured or raped if they had gone back," she said.

Ligia Ximenes arrived in Australia from East Timor about six years ago. The 24-year-old wants to study at an Australian university but can't afford to now, she said, because she would be treated as an "overseas student" and be charged full tuition fees.

"I feel like Australia is a home for me," Miss Ximenes said. "The education is the main reason I want to stay here, and the safety."

Sister Josephine Mitchell, of the Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies in Sydney, said the young asylum seekers should be allowed to live here permanently, or at least be allowed to stay long enough to obtain educational qualifications.

"I think the attitudes (of the government) are mean and uninformed in a way, about what could be done. The Timorese did so much for us in the past and surely we can be open-hearted for them," she said.

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