Tag Archives: UNHCR

IRIN: West Papuan refugees hope for citizenship in PNG

 Article

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Dan Hanasbey was born in Papua New Guinea

PORT MORESBY, 17 December 2012 (IRIN) – Access to citizenship could prove the best hope yet for thousands of West Papuan refugees living in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

“I want citizenship. I’ve been here 28 years and want to get on with my life,” said Donatus Karuri, a 57-year-old father of six, outside the shelter he shares with five other families at the Hohola refugee settlement. It is one of four settlements for West Papuan refugees in the capital Port Moresby.

Like most West Papuan refugees, he is unable to work legally and has only limited access to public services.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are more than 9,000 West Papuan refugees in PNG today, many of whom have been in the Pacific island nation for over three decades.

Others know no other home and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

“I was born here. This is the only country I know,” said Dan Hanasbey, 27, another refugee wanting citizenship.

Flight from Indonesia

Between 1984 and 1986, more than 11,000 West Papuans fled east into PNG from the western, Indonesian half of New Guinea Island to escape political turmoil and economic discontent; the area’s longstanding secessionist sentiments towards Jakarta continue to simmer today.

West Province, a former Dutch colony rich in natural resources, was later divided into two separate provinces – Papua and West Papua – however, indigenous West Papuans continue to refer to the entire Indonesian area as West Papua.

At the time the refugees arrived, the PNG government was not yet a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. It granted the West Papuans prima facie refugee status shortly after accession to the convention in 1986 – but with seven reservations, including Article 34 on naturalization.

Of the close to 9,300 West Papuan refugees in PNG today, almost half live along the border area with Indonesia.

Another 2,435 live in urban areas, while 2,290 live in East Awin, the only officially sanctioned area for West Papuan refugees to settle. There, regular assistance is available and access to 6,000 hectares of government land is provided – about 120km away from the Indonesian border. The site was established in an effort to resettle the refugees away from the border areas to avoid possible political problems with the Indonesian government.

Those who resettle in the area for six months are provided permissive residency permits (PRPs), which allow them certain rights, including the right to work and travel internally (excluding border areas), and gives them access to health and education services.

Few refugees, however, wish to resettle in East Awin, preferring instead to stay close to the border area and their land and families on the other side. Others frown upon its remote jungle location and inaccessibility.

The government estimates only 40 percent of West Papuan refugees hold PRPs. As a result, most survive on subsistence farming – particularly in the border area. Those in urban settings live on private or government land, under constant risk of eviction, and often work illegally.


Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Like many West Papuan refugees, Donatus Karuri would like to stay

The cost of citizenship

Despite these challenges, many West Papuans – who share a similar Melanesian ancestry to Papua New Guineans – have integrated well in this nation of 7.3 million and would like to stay.

“Local integration with the opportunity to be granted PNG citizenship is the best solution for many West Papuan refugees under the current circumstances,” Walpurga Englbrecht, UNHCR country representative for PNG, told IRIN.

“The problem, however, is the application fee is too high.”

Under PNG law, any foreigner – including refugees – wishing to apply to citizenship and who has fulfilled eight years of residency must pay a 10,000 kina (US$5,000) application fee.

“We can’t afford that. It’s impossible,” Freddy Warome, 58, a West Papuan community leader, complained.

Under Article 34 of the Refugee Convention, signatory states should facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees, and make every effort to expedite naturalization and reduce the costs as far as possible.

To date, the PNG government appears mindful of this responsibility, but it remains unclear when they might act upon it.

Speaking at a 2011 ministerial meeting to mark the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, Moses Manwau, PNG’s former vice minister for foreign affairs and immigration, confirmed the government’s commitment to withdrawing its earlier reservations to the Convention, and to waiving all fees or introducing nominal fees for refugees seeking naturalization.

“We are determined to give refugees the kind of life, liberty, peace and prosperity they deserve so that they can hold their own against any other citizens in Papua New Guinea,” he said.

UNHCR believes there should be a path to citizenship for those who desire it, while those West Papuans lacking PRPs who would like to remain in the country should be provided PRPs without having to relocate to East Awin, Englbrecht said.

ds/rz
Theme(s): Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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RNZI: PNG soldiers storm home of suspended West Sepik Police Commander

FORWARDING ON.
note: West Papua Media is also following this story closely, but has unable to access its sources on the ground in Vanimo.  We are gravely concerned as to their safety given the current climate of impunity against witnesses of the confused border security operation Sunset Merona..
RNZI may have better success, but this is not a competition.

Please continue to follow this story closely, updates will be made available when sources are able to safely file.

for background, see https://westpapuamedia.info/2011/01/28/png-troops-burn-down-border-west-papua-refugee-camps-as-refugees-flee-to-the-jungle/

RNZI: PNG soldiers storm home of suspended West Sepik Police Commander

Posted at 05:06 on 07 February, 2011 UTC

Papua New Guinea soldiers allegedly stormed the home of West Sepik’s suspended provincial police commander Chief Inspector Sakawar Kasieng and threatened his family yesterday.

The newspaper, The National, reports that the ten soldiers were taking part in a border security crackdown called Operation Sunset Merona in and around the provincial capital Vanimo.

The operation has been underway for three weeks with more than 100 people arrested and detained for alleged illegal movement across the border from Indonesia.

Mr Kasieng says that the soldiers pointed guns at his family, ordering them all to stay indoors without any explanation.

He has been told by police from Port Moresby that he is charged with treason, and is due to be questioned at the police command centre in Vanimo today.

Mr Kasieng was reportedly suspended last month after refusing to allow policemen on Operation Sunset Merona entry into his local police station headquarters after one of his men was allegedly beaten up by a group of visiting task force officers.

News Content © Radio New Zealand International
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PNG troops burn down border West Papua refugee camps as refugees flee to the jungle

by Nick Chesterfield and local sources
westpapuamedia.info
January 28, 2011

Scenes of terror and destruction have erupted around Papua New Guinea’s frontier town of Vanimo, as an unprecedented and contentious PNG military operation against unarmed West Papuan refugees has arrested scores and burned over 30 houses to the ground.

79 people (28 Men, 24 Women and 27 Children) are currently being held in cramped and hot conditions at an interim processing facility outside the Vanimo Police Station, which has been taken over by police from Port Moresby after local police refused to cooperate.  Special taskforce Police are refusing to provide meals, which are having to be supplied by the local Vanimo catholic diocese, although there are no current allegations of mistreatment whilst in custody.

Nine men have been charged with unspecified charges relating to armed activities though refugee advocates have denied that these people are resident of the camps raided.  Enquiries by West Papua Media have found none have access to legal representation at this stage.

On January 23 at Blackwater refugee camp outside Vanimo, 19 houses were set on fire by Police and Soldiers from Port Moresby,  while residents were rounded up on trucks and taken to Vanimo Police Station.  According to a detailed witness report provided by the coordinator of West Papuan refugees living in Vanimo, Barias Jikwa, the operation began at 1:00 am local time when houses were surrounded, and houses began to be razed at 04:00 am.  Troops then used spades and guns to destroy the refugees’ food and edible crops.

Border Security Operation

Confusion and official intransigence has surrounded the border security Operation Sunset Merona. by PNG Defence Force (PNGDF), Police, Customs, and Foreign Affairs officials.  Troops from PNGDF’s 1st Royal Pacific Islands Regiment (1RPIR) flew in from Port Moresby in January under the command of Joint Forces Commander Jerry Frank together with out of area general
police officers from Boroko, Bomana, Gordons, and Waigani.  The elite and often notorious Mobile Brigade were not included in the operation, although human rights sources have drawn attention to the standard operating procedure of house burnings that Mobile Brigade have employed with squatters and landowners affected by mining and forestry.

Sunset Merona was originally announced as a law enforcement exercise to counter the illegal flow of goods across the border from Indonesian military (Tentara Nasional Indonesia or TNI) sources that were hurting indigenous PNG businesses, and to ensure there were no illegal workers within the logging companies from Malaysia and Indonesia operating at the PNG – West
Papua border.  Most shops in Vanimo are owned by non-Papuans, and all sell goods of non-PNG origin at marked up prices, but still vastly cheaper than PNG produced goods.  To date, there is no verifiable information that vendors of illegal goods have been caught up the security dragnet.

According to the West Papuan Refugee Relief Association (WPRRA) in Vanimo, a registered NGO, the raids were carried out “after a week of operation on the legal permits and identities of logging workers from Malaysia and Indonesia who spread across Vanimo, Madang and Wewak and besides logging activities, who also dominate the marketplaces of those provinces right now.”

The offensive, dubbed a politically motivated stunt by dissident members of PNG security forces, descended on remote border camps and villages and made arrests of logging workers and Indonesian military personnel, though it is believed these initial arrestees were released to make way for Refugee arrests after protest from Indonesian diplomatic representatives in Vanimo.
Up to 700 personnel are reportedly involved across PNG, though the joint force in Vanimo currently numbers only 150 personnel.

The offensive is exposing deep divisions in PNG security personnel, with several local security officers being stood down during the operation for “refusing to work for Indonesian interests”.  One security source who wished to remain anonymous said “This operation is a stunt; a political charade”.  He went on to further explain that the sudden change of tactic may have also been created by a hazy early January violent incident between Indonesian and PNGDF soldiers inside Batas, the vast TNI owned shopping complex just metres from the PNG border at Wutung.

After several weeks of rumours and uncertainty surrounding the true purpose of Sunset Merona, the operation has deteriorated into an offensive against Indonesia’s enemies in PNG, the West Papuan people.  “Once again, this stunt operation is deeply suspicious in its timing, with Indonesia currently engaged in a systematic sweep and terror campaign for nonviolent activists from Jayapura to the border.  The questions PNG people need to have answered is, are these two offensives working in conjunction with one another, and what kind of Melanesians are we to do the Jakarta’s work?”

In Yako village, 18 houses were burned down, and possessions and food gardens were systematically destroyed by troops.  Yako camp housed over 50 families forced out of Blakwara camp by threats from local landowners allegedly in league with Indonesian military linked logging interests.

A spokesperson for the Blakwara community, Yalli Jikwa, 39,  said “The arrest of villagers and burning of houses is a violation of our rights as refugees, and the PNG government must take responsibility for its actions.”

Also under attack were the villages of Dawi, Wara Duanda, Musu, Dasi, Warakarap, Ambas, Bebfsi and Skotchiou.  Houses have been confirmed razed at Dawi (4 houses), Bebfsi (3) and Musu (At least 4), with unconfirmed reports of every other village targeted having burnt houses.  Local human rights monitors are still attempting to confirm the situation in other villages.

There have been no confirmed reports to date that any person has been shot or any weapons discharged in these operations so far.  Some early allegations of severe mistreatment (beatings) in Blakwara and Yako, with over at least ten people still in the Vanimo Hospital currently being treated for their injuries.

Local human rights sources have reported that all villagers and refugees fled to the surrounding jungle prior to the raids,  and have not retaliated.  Amongst those fleeing were large numbers of guerrillas who have been asked by PNGDF to surrender,  but are so far ignoring the request.

The RPNGC commander of Joint Forces for Operation Sunset Merona, Jerry Frank, has described all the arrested people as separatists despite clear information that almost all refugees at the attacked camps had been registered as refugees and/or permissive residents for many years, and many were non political.

Radio NZ International has reported that PNG authorities have arbitrarily decided that anyone found not be a citizen of PNG will be considered an OPM activist and sent to East Awin refugee camp, which although overflowing, is under the control of the UNHCR and attended closely by Catholic relief agencies.  However, PNG’s acting deputy police commissioner Fred Yakasa
acknowledged that they cannot return refugees to Indonesia to face possible arrest or execution .  “It would be wrong to send those people back to Papua to an unknown fate,” Yakasa stated.  “We respect Indonesia and West Irian as an integral part of Indonesia and that respect is there and we just want to make sure no rebel activity or anything of that nature advances on our side of the border.”

Dissident police officers in Sandaun see it differently.  “Far from defending PNGs sovereignty, we are asking `how high’ before the TNI thugs even tell us to jump,” explained a senior security source in Sandaun on condition of anonymity.  “It is like somebody fears they lose out on their logging spoils”.

West Papuan refugees spoken with by West Papua Media also paint an entirely different picture to that put forward by Somare’s operation.  They have accused the Prime Minister Michael Somare of acceding to clandestine Indonesian demands, and acting preserve his alleged business interests with the Indonesian military.

“How dare he treat his own wantoks like this for the Indonesians.  We are not Indonesians, We are West Papuans, which is why we fled from the brutality of the Indonesian military year after year.  Our whole lives have been in limbo in Papua New Guinea, denied education, denied jobs, even when some of us have been welcomed as wantoks by good hearted PNG folk.  And now this criminal Somare is treating peaceful refugees like this just so he can please his bosses in Jakarta and  safeguard his retirement bilas (trinkets),”  said one elderly West Papuan refugee who was too angry to give his name when spoken to by West Papua Media by phone yesterday.

PM Somare recently stood aside pending investigation on corruption and official misconduct charges, but has quietly reinstated himself into the Prime Ministership functions with little protest from PNG political figures, many of whom also have documented involvement with Indonesian military business interests.  However this operation has been in planning for several months, with almost K2.5 million budgeted for a six week initial operation, with the possibility of extension.

Local Business Complexities
Refugee spokespeople have alluded to local business interests playing a significant role in the evictions, which local security sources have confirmed.  Most refugee camps targeted in this operation are surrounded by extremely valuable timber resources, and logging interests and national power politics are playing a significant part in the recent events.

The MP for Vanimo-Green River, Belden Namah, whose family traditionally provide refuge for both the OPM and refugees, has publicly condoned the harsh operations.  As the villages were being razed Namah issued a statement criticising the Sunset Merona personnel, not for their harsh treatment of civilians, but for allegedly encouraging local people to demand logging companies pay for timber they remove from forests. “This is very, very disgraceful,” Namah said, “It is a national disgrace for landowners to be told by security forces to set road blocks to collect road levies, when such infrastructures are national assets,” he said.

Under the PNG Constitution, Land belongs to the people, and it is not legally a national asset unless a specific act of Parliament has been enacted.  Under these provisions, resource companies must legally pay for compensation for land they damage and resources they expropriate.  Somare (and Namah) in June rammed through a change to the Environment and Conservation Act, but that is deemed by many in PNG to be unconstitutional.

“If they are targeting foreign workers for work permits, passports and other related documents, that is fine, but why are they encouraging the landowners to engage in actions that causes disruption and destructive to the smooth operations of companies in the area….. The security forces must concentrate on the core focus of the operation.”  Namah explained in his statement that this was to destroy OPM camps on the PNG side of the border.

At this point no allegations have been made to West Papua Media that Namah is influencing the operation, but as the local MP and a member of the Sandaun Provincial Security Committee, Namah is in a unique position to do so.   Ironically, Namah came to power on the back of a concerted social movement resisting Indonesian control of logging, helping to create the GVG Moma landowner controlled co-operative ensuring community control and veto over unsustainable logging. “Men, women and children have suffered for a very long time. The Government has abandoned its responsibility to the people, it seems. We must ensure that the benefits to the people are real and sustainable,” Namah explained in 2006.

Despite this, Namah is heavily involved as both a Forestry Minister, and an owner of major forestry businesses in Sandaun which have allegedly perpetrated serious environmental and social abuses against those opposed to unregulated clearance of old growth Papuan Jungle.  GVG Moma, which has increased its harvest since 2006 of highly valuable kwila/merbau, teak and other tropical hardwoods, are seeking to exploit the high value forest on which the refugee camps stand.  According to local security sources, GVG Moma are also currently utilising the same distribution and personnel networks as when the TNI directly controlled Vanimo Forest Products prior to 2006.   The former PNGDF Captain Namah, who was gaoled and pardoned for his leading role in the Sandline mercenary crisis, has attracted significant controversy during his time as Forestry Minster for accruing significant wealth and property across the Pacific.

West Papua analysts have long been concerned about the connection between illegal logging in the area and the Indonesian military business interests having the potential to extend the already serious human rights abuses in West Papua into PNG territory.   Wikileaks recently revealed cables from the US Embassy in Jakarta that accused Indonesian military officers of
deep involvement in illegal logging operations on both sides of the border. A 2006 cable details a briefing from a PNG government official reporting the TNI were ”involved in both illegal logging and drug smuggling in PNG”.

Local human rights and security sources are describing the atmosphere across Sandaun province as highly tense following the launch of the offensive.  Since before PNG independence, there has long been widespread sympathy and tolerance for given West Papuans forced to flee violence safe refuge in the country.  However, PNG also has a strong history of local businesses leaders working closely with Indonesian mercantile interests to clear refugees out of Sandaun, but this is the first time security forces in PNG have acted so blatantly in alliance with Indonesian policy of a military approach to rooting out West Papuan desires for independence.

Rumours are beginning to circulate that many ordinary people supporting West Papuans in Sandaun will take unspecified direct action to protest the treatment of their wantoks.

Local security forces refuse to co-operate.

Reports from security sources on the ground currently in Vanimo have confirmed to West Papua Media that soldiers from the local 2RPIR battalion were sidelined and local units of police were also refusing to cooperate with the operation.

The Provincial Commander of RPNGC in Sandaun Province, Sakuva Kasieng, was suspended by the RPNGC Commissioner for labelling the operation as politically motivated.  West Papua Media unsuccessfully attempted to reach Kasieng for comment.

A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in December between Kasieng and the representatives of the Free Papua Movement (OPM – Organisasi Papua Merdeka) based in Sandaun, to allow training of OPM forces in civil resistance techniques.  A senior intermediary for OPM units in the area who was responsible for the training, was not available for comment at time of
writing, nor to confirm whether the training was offensive and armed, or for nonviolent civil resistance tactics.  Regular civil resistance training  of refugees by activists and leaders within the nonviolent movement have been conducted for many  years in PNG.

However, refugees have categorically denied that any armed struggle or violence training had been conducted in, near, or with any members of the villages that were targeted by operation Sunset Merona.  “The accusation that these villages were National Liberation Army training bases is completely false. These villages attacked have no connection at all to the TPN, and Somare knows it,” explained Yalli Jikwa.

Security and local sources familiar with the MoU have alleged that a senior (and elderly) Papuan resistance figure was displeased with the training program, and allegedly provided a copy of the MoU to Indonesian Special Forces agents stationed at the Indonesian Consulate in Vanimo.  The sources described a subsequent surprise inspection by an Indonesian “consultant”
to Blakwara camp in mid-December as a catalyst that changed the officially tolerant PNG government attitude to the camps that has been in existence since 1963.

West Papua and security analysts across the Pacific have long feared that cross border “hot pursuit” operations carried by Indonesian troops may draw other countries into a regional conflict.  There is suspicion the TNI has pressured the PNGDF to act as its proxy to achieve its military objectives on neutralising the West Papuan resistance, and therefore avoid the potential for border violation.  However, both Jakarta and Waigani deny this.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs was unable to provide comment prior to deadline.

Uncertainty for Refugees already in Limbo

PNG is home to around 12,000 West Papuan refugees who have fled Indonesian state violence in several major waves since occupation began in 1962.  Several hundred refugees accepted facilitated repatriation last year with  guarantees of land, cash and non-persecution.   However the majority of refugees present say they have a well founded fear of persecution and cannot return.  Refugees are deemed by PNG as permissive non-citizens which enables them to work but not to gain any legal certainty in housing, education or as citizens.

The refugee relief NGO WPRRA are demanding that the PNG government are called to account for their “inhuman operations against refugees who took refuge in PNG due to the Indonesian brutalities”, and that the governments of Vanuatu, New Zealand and others assist these displaced West Papuan refugees to seek asylum in a third country.  WPRRA have also called on the international community to assist in “ensuring the fundamental rights of West Papuans in PNG are respected and protected according to the international law on refugees and human rights.”

The UNHCR is concerned about the attacks on refugees, and potential for inappropriate actions to escalate.  “Our PNG Representative is closely monitoring the situation and in contact with the relevant authorities to ensure the principle of non-refoulement is being respected as the situation becomes clearer,” said Richard Towle, Australia/ PNG Regional Representative for UNHCR.

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