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Government must guarantee safe haven for East Timorese.



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Media Release

Hon. Warren Snowdon M.P.

AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY

Member for the Northern Territory

 

8 September 1999

 

Government must guarantee safe haven for East Timorese

 

Federal member for the Northern Territory, Warren Snowdon, today called on the Fede ral Government to provide an absolute guarantee that citizens who escaped East Timor and sought safe haven or temporary visas in Australia would be treated sympathetically and not thrown in a detention centre.

 

“I am most pleased to hear the attitude of Chief Minister Burke on radio this morning saying that the Northern Territory would do what it could to accommodate the plight of East Timorese refugees,” Mr Snowdon said.

 

“This appears to contradict Federal Government policy. Yesterday the office of Immigration Minister Ruddock informed me that East Timorese refugees would be placed in detention centres and their cases processed just as they would if they were ‘boat people’,” Mr Snowdon said.

 

“Mr Ruddock’s office said that refugees would be processed in the normal manner and those that did not meet criteria would be ‘turned around’.

 

“In regards to short-term visas, Mr Ruddock’s office said it was unlikely East Timorese would meet the criteria for visas and therefore these would be refused,” Mr Snowdon said.

 

“The spokesperson said East Timorese were welcome to lodge an application with the Australian Embassy in Jakarta but that at this stage there was no proposal for a ‘safe haven’ gesture - that it was ‘not on the cards’.

 

“If this is official Government policy then it is an outrage. This Government needs to immediately clarify its policy regarding East Timorese refugees and visas.

 

“There are whole categories of other people who need to be considered here. There are those who may not currently be in East Timor - perhaps in Australia - who are on short-term visas and who obviously need to stay here for their safety. Or there are those in Kupang, or elsewhere in West Timor, or indeed elsewhere in Indonesia.

 

“Has the Government thought about them?” Mr Snowdon said.

 

“The lack of planning and foresight in this matter mirrors the lack of planning and foresight that has been the hallmark of the Government’s whole approach to the question.

 

“The Government has been lacking in every way since this whole question of the referendum was mooted and this is the latest example of its inability to read the situation and respond.

 

“This is an unprecedented crisis we are faced with. Australia has let East Timor down in the past and this policy is clear indication we are well and truly repeating the mistake.

 

“Australia is obliged to do everything it possibly can to assist the people of East Timor. “The Government should immediately and unequivocally make it clear that refugees will be welcomed on our shores and accommodated as best we possibly can,” Mr Snowdon said.

 

Ends

 

Contact: Tony Haritos 08-8945 7400, 0417 804 878

 

 

rw  1999-09-09  12:16