06 May 2012

Future Remains Uncertain for Myanmar Group

JORNAL INDEPENDENTE 3 May 2012 By: Raimundo Oki - DILI: The government is still trying to work out how to deal with the 26 Myanmar citizens who were recently captured in Vikeke district.

The men, members of a persecuted ethnic minority in Myanmar, reportedly paid an Indonesian people smuggler to take them to Australia, where they planned to seek asylum.

But their boat ran into problems and they washed up in Timor-Leste in late March.

After they were captured in Vikeke, the refugees were given 10 days to leave the country or face consequences including deportation and detention.

That deadline passed early last month but with no documents or money, the foreign citizens remain in police custody in Dili.

The government was still considering ways to resolve the problem, in accordance with national and international laws, Secretary of State for Security Francisco Guterres said.

Timor-Leste could not issue passports to the refugees because they did not meet the criteria for Timorese citizenship, he said.

To become a citizen of Timor-Leste you need to live in this country for at least 10 years, pass an exam on language and culture, and meet other criteria.

“This is a long and very difficult process. If (someone) is not yet Timorese, how can the government of Timor(-Leste) offer (them) a passport? If they want to become a citizen of Timor-Leste, they need to wait a long time,” Mr Guterres said.

The issue was complicated because the refugees had not come directly from Myanmar but from a refugee centre in Indonesia, he said.

The group’s arrival had no relation to the Australian Government’s request to open a detention centre in Timor-Leste, the secretary of state for security said.

“These people we will process following our laws and international laws and look at our conditions, then we will look at deporting them to an Indonesian detention centre.”

INDEPENDENTE has repeatedly contacted the immigration police over the past month in an attempt to get their comments on the issue, but as of yesterday had not been granted an interview with the commander.

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