By Kevin McQuillan

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, June 5) - Australia has agreed to give permanent residency to nearly half the 1,400 East Timorese asylum seekers in Australia.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said he'll use his discretion to give permanent residency to nearly 400 East Timorese, and he's considering another 200 cases.

But, the fate of another 1,000 is unclear.

When East Timor won its independence, the asylum claims of the estimated 1,600 East Timorese in Australia collapsed.

Many had come to Australia after the Santa Cruz massacre on 12 November 1991.

Most settled in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.

Etervina Groenen, an East Timorese woman who now works as a welfare officer for the community, has welcomed Ruddock's decision, but said returning the rest would be unfair.

"I think it is positive that the minister has announced that he is going to intervene on most of these cases, I guess because I am working on the front line and dealing with these people directly every day.

"I think for me personally, I still hope that all of them will be allowed to stay."

Groenen said many East Timorese, despite independence, are simply too afraid to return and they fear another invasion by Indonesia.

East Timor's Consul General, Abel Guterres said the move is a very important gesture for a future relationship between the two countries.

"I mean it's a sign of humanity and friendship between to the two countries.

"It's very good very good for East Timor, very good for Australia and these are the people that will play a strong bridging role between two countries for many more years to come."

Victorian Premier, Steve Bracks, has welcomed Phillip Ruddock's decision.

"I wrote to the Federal Minister indicating we stand behind any East Timorese asylum seekers who were granted permanent residence and we will but there's many hundreds more to go and the Minister hasn't finished yet, he should continue on," he said.

Bishop Hilton Deacon is also urging the Federal government to remove the uncertainty that many East Timorese refugees are still facing.

"I would say that many of them would be delighted and thankful and I must say deeply relieved because they are living in shadowland," he said, "and in fact it been almost cruel in the way which they have had to live on tenterhooks wondering whether they are going to stay here or go back to East Timor.

"I understand that the minister is adamant about one or two and he would have very good reasons for being so; but the others i would find it very difficult to distinguish them from the rest.

The Australian Democrats have welcomed the Federal government's move to allow hundreds of East Timorese asylum seekers to stay in Australia.

The Democrats Leader Andrew Bartlett said however, it would have been better to create a special class of visa.

"It would have been much less stress for the people involved, it would have been immensely cheaper for the taxpayer and it would have reflected proper justice.

"All of the people who had very consistent situation across every single case and the fact is that virtually all of the ones he's considered to date he has allowed to stay."


July 1, 2003

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