Subject: AU: E Timor expats pack bags, skills for home
Date: Fri, 02 Apr 1999 07:57:19 -0500
From: "John M. Miller" <fbp@igc.apc.org>

Received from Joyo:

The Australian 29 March 99

E Timor expats pack bags, skills for home

By JOHN ZUBRZYCKI and MADELEINE COOREY

AFTER almost a quarter of a century of statelessness, East Timorese exiles are savouring the prospect of seeing their homeland again.

From Melbourne to Mozambique, thousands of East Timorese are hoping to return to the country some last saw through a seeming hail of bullets and mortar fire during the brief but bloody civil war of late 1975.

"The hope of returning has always been there so strongly. It has never left the community," said the director of the East Timor Relief Association (ETRA), Agio Periera.

A 36-year-old Melbourne librarian, Palmira Pires, said: "The older generation tell us they've got their bags packed and they are ready to go. They really believe that independence is coming."

For Ms Pires, returning to the country of her birth means committing herself to rebuilding the troubled island, which desperately lacks basic medical, educational and social services.

"We were forced to leave Timor and, when we arrived in Australia, we tried our best to settle. We got an education here but it was always with the intention of going back some day," Ms Pires said.

The most important thing, she believes, is "just actually being there" and doing something useful with the skills acquired in Australia.

But this will not be an easy homecoming for East Timorese.

ETRA's treasurer in Sydney, Ceu Britas, said: "My heart wants to go back but in my mind I'm not prepared for returning to a country that has been destroyed, where the lives of my family, friends and relatives have been lost."

Ms Britas was only 14 when she boarded an overladen cargo ship in Dili harbour to flee the fighting that later claimed the lives of two of her brothers.

Now she wants to set up an information network in East Timor to help with the transition to independence.

There are no accurate figures on the number of East Timorese in Australia, since the census does not recognise East Timor as a place of birth.

But community leaders estimate there are 20,000 Timorese living mainly in Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and Perth. Another 3000 live in Portugal, with the rest scattered in tiny pockets of places as diverse as Macau and the US.

The role that the diaspora can play in building an independent Timor will be the subject of a five-day conference to be held in Melbourne early next month.

"It will map out a blueprint for Timor's future," said conference organiser Emilia Pires, adding that time was running out for action to avert a humanitarian crisis in the territory.

"Do you really need to see people dying of hunger before you react? You need to do something preventative because the whole situation is heading for disaster."

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