Subject: HerSun Editorial: Playing favourites

Also: Home is where your heart is

Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

May 26, 2003 Monday


Playing favourites

AUSTRALIA'S closeness to East Timor is much more than just a geographical fact.

Our strong ties take many forms. They are economic, military and humanitarian.

Morally, we stand as a role model to the young nation off our far northwestern tip -- a nation whose newly-won freedom we have encouraged and defended.

If any nation should receive special and favourable treatment from Australia, a strong case can be made for East Timor.

Saturday's Herald Sun introduced readers to Hilton Lay and his family.

Hilton, 9, an avid Essendon fan, is one of almost 1500 East Timorese Australia is in the process of sending back.

In Hilton's case, this would mean his return to a struggling nation he cannot remember, to a home that no longer exists -- and to great uncertainty.

East Timor, the world's newest nation, has a free future full of promise but an inarguably bleak present.

While the Lay family are no longer considered refugees, they are lost between cultures. Hilton came here aged 11 months and knows no other life.

Border protection has been an important and at-times controversial issue.

It became political with the mass arrival of boat people, and a security issue in the aftermath of September 11.

But the principle behind our border protection policy is clear and fair -- Australia has the right to choose.

Within this framework, it has been decided that to allow the East Timorese to stay would discriminate against other asylum seekers.

Despite this, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has the clear power to let them stay, on humanitarian grounds.

It would be a neighbourly gesture.

And, just as clearly, it would be playing favourites.

But why not? Perhaps when you can, sometimes you should.


Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia)

May 24, 2003 Saturday

Home is where your heart is


Almost 1500 Melbourne-based East Timorese face being sent back to a country which holds little promise for them. JOHN HAMILTON makes their case for calling Australia home

HILTON Lay is a nine-year-old kid with a cheeky grin and one passion in life -- Essendon.

His proudest possession is a Bombers scarf. He's about as Australian as my own two sons. They, luckily, were born here.

But Hilton was born in East Timor, and that's the big problem.

The fact he came to Australia when he was 11 months old and was weaned on Vegemite on toast before graduating to a Four 'N' Twenty pie at the footy makes not the slightest difference.

Hilton's family face being kicked out of Australia because they are no longer considered refugees.

As East Timor this week celebrated the first anniversary of its independence, East Timorese who fled to Australia in the early 1990s to escape the violence that racked the land had little to celebrate.

Some 1479 refugees who live in Australia -- most in Melbourne -- have been told they can no longer sustain a claim that they are refugees and must go home.


The delay occurred after 1995 when the Refugee Review Tribunal raised questions on whether East Timorese refugees should not instead apply for citizenship of Portugal, which administered East Timor for more than 250 years until Indonesian occupation in 1975.

A specially-convened bench of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in October 2000 heard a test case and decided the asylum seeker was a refugee and not entitled to Portuguese nationality.

But the applications were not dealt with until after independence was declared last year. The first 168 were all refused protection.

A total of 1671 East Timorese were initially affected. Today 192 have either gone back to East Timor voluntarily or have been allowed to stay here after establishing they have married Australians, or provided grounds for the issuing of business visas.

But Hilton Lay, the Bombers fan, his mum and most of his family, like most of the other 1479 East Timorese, have been told by the Immigration Department they will have to go.

Next week the Lays will take their case before the Refugee Review Tribunal.

It's a long process and usually unsuccessful. So far 350 East Timorese have been given their orders again: you have to go.

The Federal Government has decided that treating East Timorese differently from other asylum seekers would be discriminatory.

But the federal Opposition plans to move next month in the Senate to introduce a Bill to create a special humanitarian visa class conferring permanent residency status on the 1497 who are still here.

IN a double hit, every unsuccessful applicant is being given a $1000 bill by the Immigration Department for the tribunal review.

These are not rich people. The Bracks Government has stepped in with a $50,000 grant to help them with legal aid for their appeals.

the tribunal's decision.

"If the fee is not paid, you will owe a debt to the Commonwealth of Australia and you might be unable to obtain a visa in the future," a department letter says.

They are told they have a limited right to seek review of the decision by the Federal Court, Federal Magistrates Court and/or the High Court and "it is very much in your interest to get legal advice before you decide to seek review by the courts".

The only other course is to appeal directly to Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock on humanitarian grounds. A spokesman for the Minister said a substantial proportion of those who had been turned down by the tribunal had sought intervention by the Minister and there was "a stack of them on his desk".

The Minister has intervened in favour of some cases -- he did not have the figures -- and in these the $1000 fee was waived. Cases such as an East Timorese who has married an Australian and had children born here.

But it was difficult to intervene in cases "where there is a young fit person with no family here and who could return easily to East Timor".

The East Timorese who came here have been in limbo for far too long.

I met Hilton, his mother Filomena and his sisters Cidalia, 18, Elizabeth, 14, and Lizia, 12, at the Richmond West primary school this week, in the shadow of the housing commission flats where they live. Mrs Lay is separated from her husband, Zeferino, who has a job recycling clothes.

THE girls, neat in their Presentation College green blazers, all went to school at Richmond West before going on to secondary school. There are two other children. Zelia, 21, works part time at Village Cinemas and Felicidade, 16, attends MacRobertson Girls High. They live with an uncle.

Cidalia was 10 when the family fled to Australia at the end of 1994. "We were from Suai," she says in her Aussie accent.

"The violence was starting and the Indonesians were really mean to us.

"They were raping women, doing terrible things . . . dad and mum decided to get out. We got to Bali, applied for refugee status, and then came to Australia where we already had friends and relations . . . They helped us.

"All us kids feel Australian. Australia is our home. We grew up here. We can't even speak our own language now, basically.

"I want to go into international hotel management when I leave school, Felicidade wants to be a lawyer and Zelia's really interested in becoming a private detective."

Shy Lizia, who was three when she arrived here, says: "I think I'd like to become an author or a poet."

And Hilton? "I'd like to play footy," he says with a cheeky grin.

" If we go back, there is nothing for us in East Timor," says Mrs Lay, Cidalia interpreting. "There are no jobs, no education for the children. Our house was destroyed by the militia. Nothing is left.

"Now . . . we just feel nervous. What is to become of us?"

Peter Lord is principal of the Richmond West school. It is across the road, ironically, from the All Nations hotel built in 1870, about the time this country gave birth to the notion of an Australian fair go.

"Fifty per cent of our school population of 190 are East Timorese," he says. "We have 22 students from 15 different families who are now before the Immigration Department or the Refugee Review Tribunal.

"All the children are settled and happy at school . . . they have established strong connections with their peer groups.

"They are all Aussie kids with no memories or connection to East Timor . . . They have come here to escape persecution.

"To send them back will be another form of persecution. In my judgment these kids will grow up to be fine Australian citizens. They should be allowed to stay."

Peter Lord looks forward to school recess each Monday.

You see, he's a Bombers fan, too, and Hilton likes to take the head aside to discuss the finer points of the weekend's game.

He'd like to continue his chats, if he's not run out of the country by the end of this season.

Back to May menu

World Leaders Contact List
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu

Note: For those who would like to fax "the powers that be" - CallCenter is a Native 32-bit Voice Telephony software application integrated with fax and data communications... and it's free of charge! Download from