East Timor Rejects Australian Detention Center Proposal


by NTDTelevision

Parliament in East Timor has rejected an Australian proposal for the impoverished country to become a regional processing center for Australia-bound asylum seekers.

Some 34 lawmakers out of 66 members agreed to firmly reject any plan to set up a refugee detention center in East Timor. Many citizens agree with this decision.

[Nelson Correa, East Timor Citizen): (male, English)
"We Timorese are not equipped to set up a detention center in East Timor territory."

In Australia, the arrival of asylum-seekers on the country's remote northwestern shores is a hot political issue. An election in Australia is due within months.

New Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, is keen to be seen to be taking a strong stance on the issue. Gillard ousted former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in an internal party revolt late last month.

The conservative opposition has blamed an upsurge in boat arrivals on a soft policy by the Labor government. Most arrivals are Afghans and Sri Lankans sailing from Indonesia.

There are only 4,251 unauthorized arrivals currently in Australian detention, but while the numbers are small, border protection is a big issue with voters.

Gillard announced last week that she had discussed the issue with East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta. However, many Timorese are saying they do not want their country to become a "prison island."

East Timor is one of the youngest and poorest countries in the world.

A mainly Catholic country of just over a million people, it is still dependent on foreign aid more than 10 years after its bloody split from Indonesia.

Australia is a major donor of aid for East Timor. It is also the leader of an international force providing security for the fledgling country, and had about 400 troops stationed there.