Subject: SMH: Backbench upset over decision to deport Timorese

Backbench upset over decision to deport Timorese

By Cynthia Banham March 6 2003

The Howard Government is facing dissent from its backbenches over a decision to deport more than 1000 East Timorese refugees.

A delegation of disgruntled Liberals, who are believed to be unhappy with aspects of the Government's refugee policy including the number of children in detention, are due to meet the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, today. The backbenchers include moderates Bruce Baird, Senator Marise Payne and Petro Georgiou.

The Government also faces heated criticism from opposition and church groups over its refusal to allow the East Timorese to stay in Australia. Many of them have lived in Australia for a decade and some were born in the country.

Labor yesterday announced it would introduce a special amendment to the migration laws compelling the Government to grant the East Timorese permanent residency. Labor's Leader, Simon Crean, said the proposed amendment would confer permanent status on the affected East Timorese and would be a "one-off situation".

"It's in recognition of the special circumstances surrounding the East Timorese - people whose status has not been considered by successive governments and who, if it had been considered at the time, clearly would have been given refugee status," Mr Crean said.

The Immigration Department says 1095 East Timorese have received final decisions on their application for permanent refugee status - all of which have been rejections - with 500 still awaiting their rulings.

If the East Timorese decide to appeal to Mr Ruddock, they immediately lose their right to access the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, which provides them with public financial assistance, Medicare, and the right to work. Church groups say this means there are now many East Timorese who have found themselves unable to work or go to school. Many depend on charities to survive.

A Josephite sister, Kath O'Connor, said the East Timorese had fled their homeland because of the suffering there - only to face the "trauma" of waiting eight or 10 years to have their refugee applications processed.

"To be faced now with the prospect of being put out onto the street because of a lack of finance, when their Asylum Seeker Assistance fund is withdrawn ... is just patently inhumane," Sister O'Connor said.


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