14 Oct 2013

Australia's West Papuan asylum seekers to remote camp near PNG border

7:03 pm on 14 October 2013

Six West Papuans who had sought asylum in Australia, but were secretly moved to Papua New Guinea by Australian authorities, have now been moved to a remote part of Western Province, near the Indonesian border.

The six, who were human rights activists, say they had fled Indonesia when security officials began searching for them after their involvement with the Freedom Flotilla from Australia.

They are being moved tomorrow to the East Awin camp about 50 kilometres from Kiunga.

A spokesperson for the Freedom Flotilla, Ruben Blake, told DW that the camp at East Awin is long established and the people already there are in a desperate state.

RUBEN BLAKE: The situations for the thousands of refugees that already live there is basically they're being told it's a place for them to be self-sufficient, which seems to be another word for left to fend for themselves there, really. The people living there are in very desperate conditions, they've got a terrible rate of malaria in that camp. There's no UNHDR support there any longer. And the people that live there are basically not free to leave and travel around other places in PNG, and it's an incredibly remote area of PNG where they don't have access to basic services.

DON WISEMAN: They're not behind barbed wire, but they're confined to the town.

RB: That's right. There's no barbed wire there, but there's really the problem of the tyranny of distance. Even to get into the Kiunga town is often impossible. They often have to walk for days to get there. And PNG is also, in its treatment of refugees there, they've withheld the freedom of movement that is one of the causes of the refugee convention. So they are restricted in their movement. And the people there, their best hope to get out of there is to be granted a permissive residency permit, which would allow them to travel around and live in other places in PNG. However, that's not granting West Papuans the same rights as they would have as eventually becoming a citizen of PNG.

DW: How real is the threat of Indonesian security crossing the border and sorting people out?

RB: Well, we know from the past that there have been cross-border operations.

DW: Cause I know this was a major concern while these guys were holed up in their hotel in Port Moresby, the fear that they would be threatened by Indonesia, being so close to the border.

RB: Yeah, absolutely. And I guess people there that have lived there in the past have told me that they feel very concerned for their safety and don't feel they have the security of a home. And, yeah, we do know that there are boats from Indonesian incursions, but also at times there's been a threat from the PNG military itself.