BY GILLIAN DAVY
MELBOURNE — Applications for refugee status by some 1700 East Timorese people, who have been living in Australia for up to a decade, are being systematically rejected by the Refugee Review Tribunal. Unless the federal government responds to popular pressure to create a special humanitarian visa category, their futures will be wholly dependent upon minister Philip Ruddock's response to each individual's direct appeal to him.
Fifty people gathered on March 13 at Trades Hall to discuss what action could be taken in support of East Timorese asylum seekers. The meeting was called by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).
Fivo Freitas, a 28-year-old asylum seeker from East Timor, explained how the Timorese have been left in a legal limbo since fleeing their home country in the early 1990s: "East Timorese Victorians have now been living in here as active citizens for more than 10 years. We have formed strong links with schools, churches and sporting clubs, and we make a positive contribution to our communities. Many young East Timorese Australians were born or have been raised here."
The federal government claims that the asylum seekers can return to their homeland because independent East Timor is now a safe and stable country. But Vannessa Hearman, the Melbourne coordinator of Action in Solidarity with Asia and the Pacific, who recently returned from a two-year stay in East Timor, contradicted that view. She explained how there has been little reconstruction following the Indonesian-sponsored mayhem in 1999. "There is no assistance for the population to rebuild their homes [and] infrastructure is still highly inadequate", she said.
RAC is seeking to establish a broad-based campaign that will complement one currently being coordinated by the City of Yarra, which is focussed on ensuring that the East Timorese have the strongest cases possible for direct appeal to the minister, as well as providing material assistance to asylum seekers who lose access to Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme payments as a result of a rejection by the Refugee Review Tribunal.
The Footscray City College branch of the Australian Education Union has shown its support for the 27 East Timorese students enrolled at the school with a decision to stop work if the federal government moves to deport any of the students or their families.
For more information, contact Gillian 0421 109 474.
From Green Left Weekly, March 26, 2003.
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