The Canberra Times
December 28, 2001
UN urges soft line on Timor refugees
East Timorese asylum seekers might find it hard to settle back in their homeland even though it was technically safe to return, the United Nations refugee agency said yesterday.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock dismissed requests from refugee lawyers that 1600 East Timorese asylum seekers, some who arrived eight years ago, be issued special visas to stay in Australia.
Refugee lawyer Liz Biok said earlier this week that the East Timorese asylum seekers, some who arrived eight years ago, deserved special consideration.
Mr Ruddock said refugee places in Australia’s humanitarian programs were scarce and should not be allocated to those whose homeland was now safe and secure.
“What I can say is that Australia has put
an enormous amount of effort as part of the international community to
secure for the people of East Timor a country in which East Timorese can
live with safety and build for the future,” Mr Ruddock told ABC radio.
“It is not unreasonable when it is safe and secure for people who may be found not to be refugees and have no other compelling compassionate circumstances associated with their claims, to go home.”
He said while most asylum applications from East Timorese had been rejected, people were welcome to appeal.
But the UN High Commission for Refugees said the Government should show some compassion and make allowances for individual circumstances.
UNHCR worker Jake Morland said East Timor was relatively safe, but some people would still have difficulties returning because of links to the former Indonesian administration or the amount of time spent away.
“I think for the majority the situation is safe to return, however it all depends on individual cases for some, the situation is not yet right and it may never be right for return,” he said in Dili. “Even non-refugees would understand that eight years is certainly a very long time; you’ve put down new roots, you have children born in these new countries, they are educated there. It would be difficult for anyone to then think of uprooting again.”
Mr Morland said most of the 70,000 East Timorese refugees in Indonesia wanted to go back, but governments had to show understanding to those who wanted to stay in their adopted homelands. “These people aren’t objects, these people are individuals with their own stories, their own histories and they need to be dealt with with consideration,” he said.
The Federal Government this week suspended refugee claims of Afghan asylum seekers after the demise of the Taliban regime, raising concerns it might do the same for the East Timorese.
UNHCR spokeswoman Ellen Hansen said it
was too early for the Government to make a decision on Afghanistan.
“We think it’s premature to change assessments,” she said.
“We’re monitoring the situation and we will be bringing out new guidelines in the near future.”