Posted by: jkirkby8712 | April 1, 2011

Thursday, 31st March 2011 – looking back a few years to East Timor.

Yesterday, I made reference to the media report about Australia’s controversial plan for a refugee processing centre in East Timor, and the fact that proposal was effectively taken off the agenda by East Timorese authorities earlier this week.  I think it was obvious that the  plan would never proceed, when one considers the enormous developmental work still required in that new nation, with many problems of their own to be overcome. Thinking about that situation, took me back to a report I prepared for a church social justice group back in 2004, just four years after East Timor became an independent nation, albeit, not without some considerable sacrifice and loss of life over many years leading up to that time. I came across that report recently, and thought I’d include it on these pages. In many ways, some of the difficulties being faced at that time, are still concerns in this tiny nation.

So, writing in 2004………….”Over the period May 16-23, many churches around Australia will celebrate Simply Sharing Week. The theme this year, under the program co-ordinated by ForceTen is ‘Food for Life’, and particular emphasize has been placed on the basic needs of food and water in East Timor at this time..

Over many years, members of the Uniting Church, including individuals and groups here at St Andrews, have attempted to generate various means of support for the people of East Timor, one of Australia’s near neighbours. While East Timor, after many years of occupation and sometimes brutal suppression, became an independent nation four years ago, this young country still needs that kind of support. Just last year, the United Nations World Food Program launched an appeal for emergency food in East Timor. Under that program, food aid is described as “the provision of food for human consumption for development purposes, including grants and loans for the purchase of food.” In East Timor, malnutrition at the time was widespread, as thousands of families existed on wild roots and tubers, and made porridge from the stems of palm leaves. Much of this situation was a direct long term outcome of the occupation by Indonesia, and the terrible infrastructure and personal damage that was imposed upon this little nation in the years prior to independence.

It was noted in a newspaper article just two months ago, that in one of the world’s poorest nations, rebuilding needs a lot more than bricks and mortar. According to that report “The average life expectancy is only 57 years and 41 percent of the population live below the poverty line. Jobs are scarce and the health system is in desperate need of doctors, funds and equipment. There is no local government power base – budgets for the 13 districts are controlled by the central Government in Dili, which also elects the district administrators. And meetings between regional groups can resemble high noon at the Tower of Babel. About 33 languages are spoken in East Timor, many of them specific to isolated regions” [Australian, 3rd Jan, 2004].

Meanwhile, on the wider scale, security continues to be a major influence in accentuating many of the country’s food, health & social problems. East Timor has turned to Australia as principal professional advisor to its national army,  and to provide support to its police forces.  My own brother is one of those advisors currently serving with the Defence Cooperation Program, in Metinaro, west of Dili, where he has been located since January, and trains the local forces in the defence of their small nation”.    While Ian was over in East Timor, he wrote a very moving summary of his time and activities there, and I will include that in a future contribution to these pages, in a few days.

Interestingly, on the subject of the refugee centre, our Prime Minister seems determined to proceed with negotiations despite the fact that the  East  delegate at this week’s ‘Bali People Smuggling Conference, has reaffirmed his nation’s hostility to a refugee processing centre on  it’s territory, and suggested that Australia should look elsewhere for a location for the centre. Dr Alberto Carlos said “For East Timor, it’s still not possible. Our land is very, very small…..the income is still very low. A lot of infrastructure needs to be built. That’s our main priority…..We would very, very much appreciate that initiative if Australia can find some other places in the region because we have a very, very limited space”.  Australia’s Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen says that Australia wants the centre in East Timor so it can transfer asylum seekers that reach Australia to the country for assessment of their claims and resettlement in other countries. But with East Timor [rightfully in my view] maintaining it’s resistance, Mr Bowen hinted that Australia has been approaching other countries as well.

On another subject, my admiration and respect for emergency services personnel, increased significantly today, after reading reports of yesterday’s terrible car accident. It’s not a job that I feel I could ever cope with  –  descriptions such as ‘two of the injured were not aware of the activity around them, the third was. He had his dead mate in his lap. Their legs were all entangled around the pole and caught in metal. It was really very distressing for everybody to work…to get them out……….It took several hours to separate all the men from each other and the twisted car’.  I could not imagine the stress of going home to one’s family, are dealing with that horror for some hours.  As one emergency officer said ‘Week in, week out, we seem to have a repeat of what we’re seen before. Unfortunately, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders, and we see the same mistakes again’.  Very sad indeed!

Did I note previously, that India won the 2nd Semi Final of the World Cup Cricket – well if not, I do so now – At the Chandigarb ground in India, the co-host for this tournament. India 260 defeated Pakistan 231. So the final this weekend – India versus Sri Lanka.




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