Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Papua New Guinea

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1998
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Papua New Guinea, 1 January 1998, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 1997, Papua New Guinea (PNG) hosted about 8,200 Indonesian refugees from Irian Jaya, an Indonesian province that shares the island of New Guinea with Papua New Guinea. Some 800 refugees from the PNG island of Bougainville remained in the Solomon Islands at year's end, while 20,000 or more persons remained displaced on Bougainville.

Refugees from Indonesia Indonesian refugees from the province of Irian Jaya first fled to Papua New Guinea in 1984 to escape fighting between the Indonesian army and forces of the Organisasi Papua Merdeka, a small insurgent group seeking independence for Irian Jaya. During 1984 87, Papua New Guinea received more than 12,000 Irian Jayan refugees. At the end of 1997, about 3,700 of the refugees were living in a UNHCR assisted, government-run settlement at East Awin, near Kuinga in Western Province. Another 4,000 Irian Jayan refugees were living without assistance in six villages in the border area, and about 500 were living in urban centers with friends and relatives. According to UNHCR, no significant numbers of Irian Jayan refugees arrived in Papua New Guinea in 1997. There also was no organized voluntary repatriation to Irian Jaya during 1997, although some refugees may have repatriated by their own means.

Papua New Guinea began implementing a "limited integration" policy for Irian Jayan refugees at East Awin, a policy announced in 1996. The policy allows the refugees to choose voluntary repatriation or "permissive residency" status in Papua New Guinea. According to Papua New Guinea's embassy in Washington, D.C., permissive residency may be granted to "Irian Jayans who meet certain criteria and conditions such as intermarriage with PNG citizens, adoption into PNG families, skills and educational qualifications." Irian Jayans who obtain this status may continue to reside at East Awin or relocate to other areas of the country. After a qualifying period of permissive residency, the refugees may apply for naturalization. UNHCR reports that permissive residency status has markedly improved the refugees' access to local integration, allowing them to work legally in Papua New Guinea and send their children to government-sponsored schools, along with other rights and responsibilities. UNHCR has been designated an advisory member of the Permissive Residency Screening Committee, to begin meeting in 1998.

Ongoing drought in Papua New Guinea affected Irian Jayan refugees, particularly those in the Iowarra camp in the East Awin settlement. The drought was exacerbated by brushfires, which destroyed a majority of the subsistence gardens of East Awin. UNHCR provided nonfood drought-relief items and technical assistance in late 1997, while other donors provided emergency food rations. In September, a drought-related brushfire destroyed most houses in an unofficial border village of 600 Irian Jayans.

Uprooted Papua New Guineans Since 1988, several thousand refugees from the Papua New Guinea island of Bougainville have fled to the neighboring Solomon Islands. They left to escape fighting between the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), a group that seeks independence for Bougainville, and PNG government forces. In March, Prime Minister Julius Chan of Papua New Guinea was forced to leave office after revelations that the government had hired British and South African mercenaries to suppress the rebellion.

Some refugees who fled to the Solomon Islands have since settled there permanently, while others have returned spontaneously to Bougainville or the Papua New Guinea mainland. Only some 800 refugees remained in the Solomon Islands at the end of 1997.

The conflict in Bougainville has reportedly left some 20,000 people dead and thousands more displaced. Many of the displaced were living in camps, mainly on Buka Island, just north of Bougainville. According to UNHCR, the best available information indicates that the number of internally displaced persons on Bougainville was reduced to between 20,000 and 25,000 by the end of 1997 (disputed reports in 1996 indicated that as many as 70,000 were displaced).

In October, the Papua New Guinea government and secessionist Bougainvilleans agreed to an interim truce, to be enforced by a New Zealand-led multinational truce monitoring group.

(On January 23, 1998, PNG leaders and rebels signed a declaration of peace designed to end the war on Bougainville. The declaration turned the October 1997 interim truce into a cease-fire that was to take effect on April 30, 1998.)

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