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Ruddock about-face signifies breakthrough for East Timorese

Following more than a year of lobbying from Church and other community groups, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said yesterday he would intervene to grant 379 East Timorese asylum seekers permanent residency in Australia.

"I can say generally on behalf of some ... 379 people that I have stated a preparedness, subject to character and health issues being resolved satisfactorily, to intervene," Mr Ruddock told parliament.

The Opposition observed that Ruddock's change of heart followed an outcry over his decision last week to give Lebanese asylum seeker Bedweny Hbeich a visa after he allegedly donated $3,000 to the Liberal Party.

At the launch of Caritas Australia's Iraq Appeal last week, NSW Premier Bob Carr said he would give his expression of bipartisan support to Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock if the minister made the decision to let them stay.

"They're fitting in well, they are part of the community here," he told the Caritas audience. "To send them away from Australia and back to a land with all the difficulties they've got would be quite cruel."

The East Timorese refugees in question came to Australia between 1991 and 1995. They settled into the community until the Refugee Review Tribunal rejected their claims for asylum this year. Most of them live in Melbourne, although some are in Sydney.

Mercy Sr Anne Forbes says that her community in Melbourne has been helping some of the young people who are affected while they pursue university studies. She said one man in his 20s hoped only to be able to stay in Australia until the end of the year so he can complete his teaching degree.

"They have never been to East Timor; they don't know the language," she said. "Their home is here."

Earlier this year Archbishop Francis Carroll, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, wrote to Mr Ruddock with an urgent plea to allow the East Timorese to stay in Australia.

Archbishop Carroll has twice requested that the government create a special visa category to acknowledge their special circumstances.

Catholic Weekly/West Australian

10-year fight ends in joy for asylum seekers (The Age)
Hope of case by case review for East Timor refugees (Radio Australia)
Christian Brothers join call to let Timorese stay (15/5/03)
Archbishop calls on Ruddock to let the East Timorese stay (20/2/03)
Migrant and Refugee Office urges Senate to let East Timorese stay (6/3/03)

4 Jun 2003