Timorese come together for support

5:47pm Wednesday 27th May 2009

By Chris Walker »

Ex-patsfrom East Timor have used their Independence Day celebrations to launch Oxford’s first community group for people from the remote Asian island.

In 2002, the former Portugese colony became the first new sovereign state of the 21st century when Indonesia agreed to relinquish control of the territory it had taken over almost 30 years earlier.

On Saturday, more than 40 former islanders gathered at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Blackbird Leys to commemorate their independence and launch Oxford’s East Timor Association.

The event began with a traditional church service for the former residents of one of Asia’s two Catholic countries before the association was treated to a traditional tebe tebe and suru boek dance which sees participants all hold hands.

Carla Goncalves, 21, from Trefoil Place, Greater Leys said: “It was amazing and beautiful.

“We got to celebrate our independence which was really nice.

“I really enjoyed it because I met a lot of people from my country who I never met before.”

Miss Goncalves, who is taking an animal care course at Abingdon & Witney College, said: “We’re very happy to live in Oxford — everyone has made us feel very welcome since we have been here.”

Her brother Joao, 16, said: “It was great we met loads of new people. It’s really good to get the association started. Now we have a community here we can look after each other.

“In my country it’s the biggest day of the year. It means a lot for us to be independent.”

Joao, a Year 11 pupil at Oxford Community School, added: “Next year we’re hoping to improve it with much more activities.”

There are an estimated 300 people from East Timor living in Oxford and 500 countywide. Following a purge by Indonesian troops and anti-independence militias in 1999, hundreds of thousands of people fled to West Timor and a smaller number to Europe.

However, chairman of the East Timor Association, Paulino Cachola, said the majority of his countrymen living in Oxfordshire are not refugees but Portuguese passport-holders who came to England looking for work.

Mr Cachola said: “The association is very important for us. We want recognition of our presence.”

The 41-year-old of Ridgefield Road, East Oxford, added: “We are far away from our country, but for the East Timor community is it important that we celebrate our independence and share our joy together.”

The association is looking for more ex-pats to join their group, which will meet every three to six months.

For more information contact jliugoncalves@googlemail.com cwalker@oxfordmail.co.uk


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