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West Papuan asylum seekers need our support / SA, Greens, and Democrats do


Green Left Weekly: West Papuan asylum seekers need our support
+ Greens Senator Kerry Nettle to visit asylum seekers on Christmas Island
+ Democrats Senator Natasha Stott Despoja: "Grant West Papuans asylum"

On January 18, 43 West Papuans stepped onto Australian soil at Mapoon on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula. Amazingly, they had traversed 425 kilometres at sea in a 25-metre traditional dugout canoe fitted with an outboard motor. They were flying the West Papuan flag, outlawed by the Indonesian government.

Early on January 13, Australia-West Papua Association convener Louise Byrne was rung and informed from Merauke, West Papua, that a boat-load of independence activists was leaving for Australia. "These are undoubtedly political activists", Byrne told the January 18 Melbourne Age. "Their concern seems to be to preserve their activism. The Indonesian authorities have been extraordinarily effective in getting rid of people advocating independence for many years."

According to Byrne, the asylum seekers include student leaders from all over West Papua's lowlands and highlands. Herman Wainggai, one student leader aboard the boat, was imprisoned for treason last year in the provincial capital of Jayapura, having previously spent long periods in jail for his activities. Wainggai comes from a political family; his father died in Cipinang Prison in Jakarta, where he had been imprisoned alongside leader of the East Timorese resistance Xanana Gusmao.

Byrne said the West Papuans were forced to undertake the journey by boat because the usual means of escaping - crossing the border into Papua New Guinea - had become increasingly difficult. "Although it hasn't been announced, I think the Indonesian government has changed its policy and is now realising that ... autonomy isn't working and I think they're about to implement a military solution."

The journey by the 30 men, six women and seven children was expected to take just 15 hours. The alarm was raised by AWPA on January 18 when the boat was three day's overdue. By the end of that day, the boat had been found.

The asylum seekers had hung a huge banner which read: "Save West Papua people soul from genocide intimidation and terrorist from military government of Indonesian. Also we West Papuan need freedom peace love and justice in our home land." But if not for photographer Damien Baker and the Cairns Post, which hired a helicopter, we might never have seen the boat and its political message.

On January 19, Baker, a journalist from Torres News on Thursday Island, hired a helicopter and flew through the "no-fly exclusion zone" set up by the police around the West Papuan refugees. He found the Papuans huddled under a tree, but was prevented from talking to them by police.

Justice needed now

Momentum is building for the asylum seekers to be released into the community on bridging visas, rather than being detained while their claims are processed. This call has been taken up by AWPA, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Greens, the ACTU and many others.

This is only the third boat of asylum seekers to reach the Australian mainland in four years. Asylum seekers have to reach the mainland to be eligible to claim refugee status after the federal government excised Australia's northern islands from the migration zone.

ICJ Australia representative Justice John Dowd pointed out on January 19 that the asylum seekers "should not be sent offshore processing camps in Nauru or Manus Island as they are quite distinct from other boat arrivals as they have come directly from the place where they were persecuted. The 1951 Refugee Convention requires that states do not punish asylum seekers for illegal entry if they have come directly from a place where their lives were threatened."

Nevertheless, late that day the asylum seekers were loaded aboard a C130 Hercules army aircraft at Weipa airport, after undergoing health checks and processing, and taken to Christmas Island.

A spokesperson for immigration minister Amanda Vanstone said that the Christmas Island detention centre, which can house up to 800 people, was to be used for "unauthorised boat arrivals who arrive in areas that are excised from the migration zone and there's no plans to change that".

Those who arrive by boat on one of Australia's excised islands are not protected by Australia's legal system.

Rumours of a policy change first circulated last April when Christmas Island mayor Gordon Thompson said he had been told by the government's immigration detention advisory group (IDAG) that the new 800-bed centre would house all asylum seeker boat arrivals, including those who reached the migration zone.

The fact that the West Papuans, who made it to the Australian mainland, have been taken to Christmas Island - in contradiction to the government's claims about the regulations - suggests these rumours were true.

West Papuan struggle

The arrival of the West Papuan asylum seekers puts the spotlight on the deteriorating political situation in West Papua. It also puts the Australian government in an awkward situation: it supports the "territorial integrity" of Indonesia and hence opposes the independence struggles in West Papua and Aceh. What's more, Jakarta and Canberra are currently negotiating a security treaty that is set to include a pledge by Australia not to interfere in provinces such as Papua.

Reports that the Australian government may have allowed Indonesian officials access on January 19 to the 43 asylum seekers are therefore not surprising.

Yet popular sentiment in Australia lies firmly with the West Papuan's independence struggle, a legacy of the movement in solidarity with East Timor's fight for independence, which highlighted the brutality of the Indonesian regime under former dictator Suharto.

Murdoch's Australian newspaper warned in its January 20 editorial that "there is no case for the Australian government sticking its bib into Indonesia's business and accepting [the 43 West Papuans] as freedom fighters while we accept its long-established sovereignty over West Papua. It is never wise to jeopardise international relations - especially between neighbours - with single-issue stances."

Joe Collins from AWPA Sydney said that the West Papuans should be treated as the East Timorese were before they achieved their independence, by granting them bridging visas with full rights and allowing them to live in the community while their claims are assessed.

According to British-based TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign, additional troops were sent to Papua last November and stationed in villages to prevent people from taking part in pro-independence activities.

"The Papuan people are being subjected to a closely coordinated operation by the Indonesian police operating in the towns and the Indonesian army operating in the countryside which could lead to a number of arrests and convictions under the anti-subversion law."

Is it any wonder then that some pro-independence activists are seeking political asylum?

From Green Left Weekly, January 25, 2006 @


Greens senator to visit asylum seekers

January 23, 2006 - 5:24PM

Australian Greens senator Kerry Nettle plans to visit a boatload of Papuan asylum seekers on Christmas Island and tell them about reprisal shootings in the Indonesian province.

Senator Nettle said she would leave on Saturday to visit the 36 adults and seven children being processed by the Department of Immigration on Christmas Island.

The refugees were found on Cape York Peninsula on January 18 after they took five days to sail to Australia in an outrigger canoe. They were transferred from Weipa air base the following day.

Refugee groups believe the shooting of four teenagers in the Papuan village of Waghete on Friday was reprisal by the Indonesian military for the political activists and their families fleeing the province for Australia.

Senator Nettle said although the immigration department was currently keeping the Papuans incommunicado while they were being interviewed, she hoped to get access to them at the weekend.

"I'm hoping that's no longer the case on Saturday."

She said she arranged the trip before the Papuans arrived, to inspect a new detention centre under construction on the island and to visit a group of West Timorese asylum seekers.
As well as discussing the Papuans' asylum claims, she wanted to inform them of Friday's reprisal attacks in Papua, she said.

"They haven't got any radios or televisions so they would not know of the recent shootings, which included a relative of one of them there, unless DIMIA (Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs) told them," she said.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) spokesman said the government still did not have confirmation from Jakarta that the Indonesian military was responsible for the shootings.

One of the victims, Moses Douw, is believed to be a close relative of one of the Papuan asylum seekers.

The department of immigration has rejected accusations its officials may have endangered the group's safety.

Labor's spokesman for Pacific Island affairs, Bob Sercombe, has called on the Australian and Indonesian governments to initiate a joint parliamentary visit to West Papua.


Latest Releases

* West Papuan detainees must be allowed family contact in the wake of shootings.
21st January 2006
* Update: Four school children believed shot dead by Indonesian Military in West Papua
20th January 2006
* Reports of Indonesian Military shootings in West Papua alarming
20th January 2006
* Vanstone fails debt of honour to West Papuans
20th January 2006
* Greens back Medicare expansion
19th January 2006
* Treat West Papuans like East Timorese
19th January 2006
* First round of uni offers, last round of uni services.
18th January 2006
* West Papuans deserve respect not detention
18th January 2006
* Greens write to Downer about West Papuan boat
18th January 2006


Senator Natasha Stott Despoja
Democrats Senator for South Australia
Australian Democrats spokesperson for Foreign Affairs

Dated: 23 January 2006

Grant West Papuans asylum

The Australian Democrats today called on the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, to intervene in the cases of the 43 West Papuans detained on Christmas Island, and grant political asylum if the Department of Immigration denies a claim for refugee status.

"The case for political asylum for these people is clear. Grave human rights abuses have taken place against the West Papuan people over a number of decades, at the hands of the Indonesian military, and these asylum seekers are identifiable activists within the West Papuan movement," Democrats' Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said.

"There is evidence that at least 100,000 West Papuans have been murdered some by the Indonesian army in addition to widespread reports of wrongful imprisonment, torture and general intimidation.

"Backing their claim for asylum, these asylum seekers arrived by boat displaying a banner claiming genocide, intimidation and terrorism by Indonesian forces and expressing a desire for freedom, peace and justice.

"The idea that these West Papuan activists are not claiming political asylum is offensive. It was evident that they were
claiming political asylum through these actions.

"If there is a chance that the legitimacy of the claims of these West Papuans for asylum is in question, the Foreign Affairs Minister must use the mechanism within his power to prevent them being handed over to the Indonesian Government.

"The Federal Government's decision on this issue must not be influenced by the Indonesian Government's threats. The Government must not cower in the face of claims of harm to our bilateral relationship with Indonesia if Australia grants asylum to these West Papuans.

"A strong relationship should be characterised by honest and open exchanges," Senator Stott Despoja said.




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