East Timor Baulks At Refugee Plan

East Timor baulks at refugee plan

Bernard Lagan
The Age
September 25, 2010

EAST Timor has declared it does not want to become a mere transit point for boat people picked up in Australian waters.

At a meeting of foreign ministers in New York yesterday, Australia formally put to the governments of East Timor and Indonesia its plan for an asylum seeker processing centre in East Timor.

But East Timor Foreign Minister, Zacarias da Costa, said: ''We cannot be in the middle as a transit point for these people.''

He said Prime Minister Julia Gillard had briefed East Timor's Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, on the plan on Wednesday.

Mr da Costa said that while East Timor remained open to hosting the asylum seeker processing centre, once Australia firmed up its plans, there were serious issues with the plan in East Timor. These included opposition to the idea already expressed by the East Timor Parliament, as well as by the country's Catholic leaders.

Mr da Costa said that in the meeting Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd had conveyed a sense of urgency about the proposal that the asylum seeker processing centre be built in East Timor.

The foreign ministers agreed that a meeting of the Bali process on people smuggling – involving up to 50 Asia Pacific nations – would need to be called to consider the proposal. East Timor had asked for the meeting. But Mr da Costa said Indonesia, which must call the meeting, was hesitant to do so.

Australia's immigration detention centres are almost filled to capacity, following the arrival of record numbers of asylum seekers in Australian waters over the past year.

Mr da Costa said: ''I think Mr Rudd said that Julia Gillard wants to find a solution to this problem. I have to say that this presents us with a regional concern. This is why we have agreed it needs to be discussed within a regional framework.”