2 Oct 2013

Australian government accused of breaking its laws in deporting Papuans

5:56 pm on 2 October 2013

The Refugee Action Coalition says the Australian government has acted unlawfully in transferring seven West Papuans, who had fled Indonesia and sought asylum in Queensland, to Papua New Guinea.

Its spokesperson, Ian Rintoul, says the government claimed it acted in line with a 2003 Memorandum Of Understanding, which allows Australia to return asylum seekers to PNG if they have come through PNG.

But Mr Rintoul says the MOU requires those people to have been in PNG for seven days or more, and the West Papuans were there for just two.

IAN RINTOUL: The Memorandum Of Understanding between Papua New Guinea and Australia for the return of people who've come through Papua New Guinea relies on, firstly, that people have to have been in Papua New Guinea for seven days or longer before they arrive in Australia, and that's simply not the case in this situation. I think, secondly, the memorandum requires that people who are returned actually have their refugee processing done in Papua New Guinea, and there are serious questions about whether Papua New Guinea has the intent even, let alone the capacity, to actually process and determine the refugee status of West Papuans and whether they can safely resettle or are willing to safely resettle and provide secure protection for West Papuans in Papua New Guinea. They've certainly got no history of that.

MARY BAINES: So you're saying that the Australian government has acted unlawfully?

IR: I think it's very clear that the Australian government has acted unlawfully. They have triggered this Memorandum Of Understanding or have relied on that, even though they well know the situation with West Papuans in Papua New Guinea. The government should have processed these people in Australia and provided the protection that only Australia can provide. And we think the government should bring the West Papuans back from Papua New Guinea so they can get the protection they need.

MB: You've said one of the reasons the government could have done this is because of Abbott's recent trip to Indonesia.

IR: I think it's got everything to do with Abbott's trip to Indonesia, and I think the offhand attitude the government has got to asylum seekers in general, but it's very clear that providing protection for West Papuans who are fleeing repression at the hands of the Indonesians army and military does create diplomatic problems between Australia and Indonesia. Indonesia has expressed those concerns. Tony Abbott, when he was there a couple of days ago, went to great lengths to say that Australia respected the sovereignty of the territory of Indonesia. They even went so far as to say they take a dim view of people coming to Australia and being critical of Indonesia. That was a not so veiled reference to West Papuans and to the fact that the government is quite willing to ignore the rights of West Papuans.

MB: So the West Papuans are in Papua New Guinea at the moment and there's no indication of when their claims will be assessed?

IR: No, that's right. All they've met with so far are officials from the IOM - the International Organisation of Migration. They've got absolutely nothing to do with assessing asylum claims and everything to do with convincing people on voluntary repatriation. They've been dumped in the hotel and no indication at all that their claims are being assessed, so there's no indication in general that Papua New Guinea has got a mechanism to assess refugee claims. They've really been dumped in limbo with no real guarantee or assurance that their refugee claims will be acknowledged.