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Two organisations of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference today renewed calls to the Minister for Immigration, Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, to grant residency to 1,800 East Timorese asylum seekers who are facing deportation.

The renewed calls from Caritas Australia and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council come following last week’s notification of 84 Timorese that their visa applications were unsuccessful and they had 28 days to leave Australia.

Bishop William Morris, Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council said, “Three weeks ago Archbishop Carroll, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, wrote to the Hon. Philip Ruddock asking him to grant the expatriate East Timorese permanent residency.  To date, there has been no reply.

“We call on the Minister to exercise his discretion and allow the East Timorese to stay.  These people were offered protection from horrors such as the Dili massacre at Santa Cruz cemetery.  Many have lived in Australia for over seven years as their applications have been processed.  In that time they have integrated into the life of the Australian community, with children growing up, new families forming and people working to support their new life in Australia.  Given these circumstances, and out of a sense of justice, our nation could afford to recognise the East Timorese as permanent residents of Australia” Bishop Morris said.

Jack de Groot, Director of Caritas Australia said, “To return the East Timorese asylum seekers to a country that has neither the resources, economic and social infrastructure nor opportunities to support them raises serious questions about the operation of Australia’s immigration policy.

“Returning Timorese will be entering one of the world's poorest countries, where 80% of children are estimated to have internal parasitical infection, where one in five children are chronically malnourished and where TB is a major problem” Mr de Groot said.  “Inevitably some of those returning will face significant health problems.  Some, born in Australia, have never lived there and will face even greater risks.”

Caritas Australia has significant programs in East Timor addressing food security and shelter needs, and supporting victims of sexual assault.

Caritas Australia and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, which are organisations of the Bishops’ Committee for Justice, Development, Ecology and Peace, urged the Minister to exercise his discretion in granting residency to the East Timorese.  “Australians have close ties and affection for Timor.  Given the long history of Australian government action in Timor and the particular circumstances faced by these asylum seekers, it would be appropriate now to welcome them formally into the Australian community,” they said.