11 May 2005


Refugee advocates have reacted with shock and outrage at the recently announced government decision to deport approximately 50 East Timorese on 'character grounds'.

The nature of the alleged character defects have not been specified 'for privacy reasons' and have not even been disclosed to those being deported. The allegations, repeated on national television, have caused considerable distress to those facing the deportation, not only because of their impending removal from Australia (where they may have lived for more than ten years) to an uncertain future, but also because of the perceived slur on the character of people who have prided themselves on their honesty and willingness to abide by the law.

Josephite Sister Susan Connolly, Assistant Director of the Mary McKillop Institute of East Timorese Studies has suggested that the decision was deliberately timed to distract attention from the issue of the Australia-East Timor Oil and Gas dispute.

The decision to deport these people also comes at a time when Australia’s immigration and detention policy is under renewed scrutiny with the astonishing and disturbing disclosure that thirty three Australian citizens have been wrongly detained under the current mandatory detention laws (this is the number admitted by the government – some say the figure is much higher). This on top of the revelation that at least one Australian citizen was actually wrongly deported three years ago to her country of origin and her children placed in foster care. Since then all trace of the woman has been lost!

The fate of asylum seekers deported from Australia has long been an issue of concern for the Edmund Rice Centre whose report 'Deported to Danger' can be viewed at their website.

If that was not enough publicity has also been given, both in Australia and overseas, to the story of the three year old girl held at Villawood detention centre who was initially refused permission to attend a play group for a couple of hours each week despite having spent her whole life detention to this point and never having had any contact with children of her own age. This also despite the grave concerns for her mental health expressed by medical staff.

When will enough people be sufficiently motivated to raise their voices and demand an end to this cruel, vindictive and inhuman detention policy?

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