Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Pressure unrelenting

  • 07 July 2006

In python stories, the serpent grasps its victims, suffocates them and digests them, and all the while the bystanders stand around in helpless distress.

The python is an emblem of Australian immigration policy that crushes asylum seekers in order to excrete them. It grasps them in detention centres and in legal processes. Then, by depriving them of income and benefits, it ‘persuades’ them to leave Australia.

The 1600 East Timorese asylum seekers in Australia are now entrapped in this process. Many have lived in Australia since 1990. They sought refugee status, but Australian governments did not at the time consider their cases, fearing the disapproval of the Indonesian Government. In the meantime, they have found work in Australian businesses, have sent their children to Australian schools, and belong in the Australian community.

Their claims for refugee status are now being processed. The East Timorese must show that they would face persecution if they returned to the independent East Timor.

Predictably, no refugee claim has so far succeeded, although a few people have won residence on the grounds of their close ties with Australia. When rejected, they can appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal, which, however, is highly unlikely to find in their favour. In the event of a second rejection, they can then appeal to the Minister for Immigration for consideration of their cases on humanitarian grounds.

At that point the coils tighten. For when they appeal, they automatically lose their right to work. They recover it only if and when the Minister indicates he will consider their case—a process that takes some months. They will also be deprived of medical and other benefits, and any income they may have received through the Red Cross. They will have no resources for rent, to attend to their health or to buy food for themselves and their families. Those whose balance of spirit is precarious will find their sense of worth put under further pressure. Against the background of these suffocating provisions designed to drive them from Australia, they will rely heavily for support on an already poor East Timorese community.

The East Timorese asylum seekers themselves have become increasingly anxious as their cases are heard and dismissed. Other Australians are also distressed. In Darwin, representatives of business and local government have protested, claiming that the East Timorese belong to their community and must not be deported.

What can be done? Sympathetic bystanders who watch Australian immigration policy