23 Aug 2002

Papua border crossers being assessed as possible refugees

10:27 am on 23 August 2002

The Papua New Guinea Government has begun assessing whether several hundred Papuan bordercrossers in Vanimo are refugees.

Father Tomi Thomas from the Vanimo Catholic Diocese, which has been sheltering the Papuans, says officials from the PNG government and United Nations Refugee agency began interviewing the bordercrossers two weeks ago.

The Papuans crossed the PNG/Indonesian border into Vanimo after a military crackdown in December 2000.

Ever since, the Papuans have been classed as bordercrossers because the PNG government has refused to consider their pleas for refugee status.

But that has now changed and Father Thomas says a decision on the Papuans status expected soon.

"They came over here, and they made the investigation and they questioned each one, and that process of investigation was over just two weeks ago, to finalise who really deserve the charges of the refugees and who really didn't deserve it."

Father Tomi Thomas who says the Papuans are living in Vanimo peacefully and there are no indications that either government is planning to force them back over the border.