Let the Timorese stay!

Issue 

Recent public statements by Prime Minister Paul Keating and foreign minister Gareth Evans denying the refugee status of East Timorese who have fled their Indonesian-occupied country to Australia, is yet another despicable episode in the federal Labor government's collusion with the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. Their statements — made while the cases of 18 refugees are being considered by the Refugee Review Tribunal — were applauded by the Indonesian government, but widely condemned in Australia and abroad. Keating and Evans added insult to injury by claiming that the refugees should be turned away because they could claim Portuguese citizenship and hence seek refuge in Portugal. While the United Nations officially recognises Portugal as the legal administering power in East Timor (with acknowledged responsibility to de-colonise East Timor), the Australian government is one of only a handful in the world that recognises Indonesia's forceful incorporation of that country. To be consistent, Keating and Co. should argue that East Timorese are Indonesian citizens. The Australian government vociferously disputed that East Timor was still a Portuguese territory when its blood-for-Timor-Sea-oil deal with the Indonesian regime was taken before the World Court by the Portuguese government. As East Timorese community spokespeople have pointed out with justified anger, these refugees are East Timorese citizens, not citizens of Portugal or Indonesia. They want to stay in Australia, not go to distant Portugal. These refugees should be allowed to stay because they are fleeing bloody repression from the Indonesian occupying forces. Even as Keating and Evans displayed their cynical sophistry, Indonesian troops were shooting and rounding up more youth in the East Timorese capital, Dili. But the Keating government puts big business profits before human rights. It wants to send a message to any future refugees from East Timor that they are not welcome in Australia. Our duty is to support the refugees, assist the struggle for East Timor's independence and build the growing public opposition to the Australian government's close business and military collusion with the Suharto regime.

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