Thousands of East Timorese who fled the country in the 1990s could lose their right to work, rent a house or access the NHS within three days due to Brexit.
Activists say that much of the country’s estimated 15,000 population does not understand that if they do not apply for settled status with the Interior Ministry before Wednesday they will lose their rights.
Many members of the East Timorese community traveled to the UK on Portuguese passports, but have a strong sense of East Timor identity and do not understand the ramifications of being, on paper, an EU citizen, the activists warned.
A Timorese interpreter and translator, Bocagio dos Santos, an activist in Oxford, where the largest East Timorese population is believed to live, said that many have “only the slightest understanding of what Brexit is and what it means to their right to stay in the UK. ”.
Local activists estimate that around a third have not initiated their application for post-Brexit status despite the June 30 deadline.
“There are Timorese in the UK who are completely unaware that Brexit has happened. They could end up in the country illegally next week and they won’t even know why, ”Dos Santos said.
Oxford East Timor Community President Rosalia Costa said: “I expect the worst. Language barriers are the biggest problem, but there is not much effort to communicate with us in our own languages.
“There are around 4,000 Timorese in Oxford alone, so we should have a service in our language to help those who don’t want to speak.”
East Timor was a Portuguese colony until 1975 and citizens born before 2002 are entitled to a Portuguese passport. Since the early 1990s, thousands of Timorese have settled in the UK as EU citizens, many of them fleeing the Indonesian war and occupation. There is no exact figure on the number of East Timorese living in the UK. Estimates range from 5,000 to 20,000, and Oxford is home to the largest individual community.
Fazil Kawani, coordinator of the charity Asylum Welcome, said that while there have been some successes, the charity has found it challenging to engage the community. “They have many of the same problems as the other communities we help, but until now they had a different status in the country. [as EU citizens] and that prevents them from contacting us. “
Rasina, 25, and Joel, 28, an Oxford-based Timorese couple, found out they would have to apply to stay in the UK via Facebook.
28-year-old former professional footballer Onorio, who arrived in 2020, said: “I was totally surprised when I arrived in the UK. He had never heard of Brexit while in East Timor. Only when I arrived did I learn that things had changed.
“I know many Timorese who face the same problems, but are afraid to speak up. They think that keeping quiet is the best option.
“I would be devastated to go back. There is no work and I will not be able to support my family at home. I am the oldest, so I am responsible for taking care of them ”.
Oxford City Council said it was working with Asylum Welcome to help EU citizens struggling with their applications with “targeted communications in East Timor’s main language, Tetum, to reach this community.”
The Interior Ministry said that all EU citizens established in the country before 11 pm on December 31, 2020 must apply for settled status before June 30, even if they do not have all the documentation that may be necessary. . As long as your application is in the system, they will retain your rights to work, live and rent, even during the many months it may take to process.
“Anyone who has applied for the EU deal before the June 30 deadline, but has not had a decision by then, will have their rights protected until their application is decided. This is established in the law, ”said the Interior Ministry.
“Dedicated public servants are working very hard to help applicants secure their status, including supporting them to provide the necessary evidence.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism