Dili - Last Saturday, 16 Tamil men waited eagerly on the south coast of East Timor for a boat to take them to Australia. They were near the end of their journey and they'd spent the last of their money, but it didn't matter. They knew a better life was only 650 kilometers across the sea.
However, the boat never arrived and instead they were arrested and thrown in jail for three days. Now, they are broke, jobless, without legal representation and some are about to be homeless.
The men say they will be killed if they return to their home in Sri Lanka and they don't know where to go, but all of them would like to leave East Timor.
They claim to be refugees from Sri Lanka's civil war where they survived kidnappings, bombings and have lost family members. So the men, either alone or in small groups, set out for a better life.
Two of them have lived in Timor six years and have families with Timorese women, others have been here only weeks. But all ended up in the country by accident, victims of scams which bilked them out of thousands of dollars and broken promises of safe, legal passage to Australia.
Some of the men said it took them years to save up the money they gave to their agents. But when they arrived in Timor, they found they had no connecting flights or tickets waiting and slowly realized they were not going to Australia. Then they realized they were stuck in one of the poorest countries in Asia.
So, a few weeks ago, when an Indonesian man named Frankie offered them a boat, the men paid him a total of 3,700 dollars to take them finally to their new home. Instead, they got cheated once more.
Sinnathurai Baheerathan left Sri Lanka six years ago, afraid for his life. "Sri Lanka is a very difficult land with many problems," he said. "Every day 20 or 30 people die."
He said he left everything behind. In six years he has never called home once. Today he has a Timorese wife and a child, but his life in Timor has not been easy.
In 2006, East Timor was rocked by months of civil unrest and hundreds of homes and business were torched, including his. Two years on, Baheerathan still gets up every day hours before sunrise and begins to fry dough, which he sells in one of the Dili markets. The dough balls sell for five cents each and Baheerathan said he can make up to 2 dollars a day.
A few months ago he and a Tamil neighbor met Frankie. "Every time he came over to the house to eat with us he would ask us, where would you like to go," said Baheerathan.
He said Frankie made similar offers to ex-pats from the Indian community. "He said he had already been [to Australia] two or three times." (earthtimes)