Australia has sent 37 East Timorese refugees back home after their temporary protection visas expired. The group had fled East Timor after the recent sectarian violence there and many of the returnees were sent home against their will.
There were emotional scenes at Darwin airport as the East Timorese began their short journey home. Many did not want to go. They originally sought refuge in Australia after violence broke out in the Timorese capital, Dili, in May, and have insisted they will not be safe back home.
Among them was a man who lost his mother and five siblings in the violence. They were burned to death when a gang torched their house.
Two other East Timorese men who are receiving hospital treatment remain in Australia with their families.
Jose Gusmao, of the East Timorese community in the Australian city of Darwin, says those who have been sent back face great uncertainty.
"Most of them, they've lost their homes. Their homes are looted, were destroyed, and burned," he explained. "And even people that went and burned their houses, they said, 'Okay, they escaped, but we wait for them when they come back, and then we're going to teach them a lesson.'"
The violence earlier this year between soldiers from different parts of the tiny country forced many Dili residents to flee their homes in panic. Tens of thousands of people are still living in makeshift camps, afraid to return home even though the political situation has stabilized.
Lava Kohaupt is a counselor at the Melaleuca Refugee Centre in Darwin. She says that this group of East Timorese wanted to stay in Australia only until it was safe enough for them to go home.
"I don't think any of them really believe that they should be staying in Australia. I think everybody is happy to go back eventually," she said. "But it's about the timing, because most people fear that situation in East Timor is not settled enough to go back. So it's not about going back at all, it's about going back now."
Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Malaysia sent soldiers and police officers to East Timor after the violence began to help restore peace. The Australian government announced Monday that it would be sending additional troops to add to the one thousand already there.
The government says violence in Dili is now only sporadic, however, and has insisted that East Timor is safe enough for the refugees to return.
The United Nations has recently agreed to deploy more than 1,600 international police to East Timor.