Australian refugee advocates have announced they will send a delegation to Dili in the second week of May to lobby against a proposal by Australian PM Julia Gillard to build a regional processing centre for refugees in East Timor.
The announcement follows recent comments by East Timorese president Ramos Horta that such a centre “remains a possibility".
The delegation was invited by the Timor Leste Forum of NGOs and the Student Front of Timor Leste and will meet with community groups, NGOs, unions and political parties to lobby against the Australian government's proposal.
The delegation includes Phil Glendenning of the Edmund Rice Centre, former Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett, barrister Shane Prince, and Mark Goudkamp and Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC).
RAC has initiated an “Open Letter to President Ramos Horta and the people of Timor Leste” to show Australian opposition to the proposal and convey concerns that such a centre would undermine the UN Refugee Convention.
Signatories to the letter include: Sisters Josephine Mitchell and Susan Connelly, Mary MacKillop East Timor Mission; Tim Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Political Economy, Sydney University; Antony Loewenstein, journalist and author; Phil Glendenning, Edmund Rice Centre and; John Pilger, filmmaker and journalist, among others.
Rintoul said: “Australia is trying to draw East Timor into a deal that would undermine the Refugee Convention, and Australia’s obligation to provide protection to those fleeing persecution.
“We obviously hope to personally present President Ramos Horta with a copy of the letter and to discuss our concerns at the Australian government’s proposal. We would hope that our visit will finally bring the idea of a regional processing centre to a close.”