U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

At the end of 1999, Papua New Guinea (PNG) hosted up to 8,000 Indonesian refugees from Irian Jaya (also known as West Papua), an Indonesian province that shares the island of New Guinea with Papua New Guinea.

An unknown number of persons, perhaps as few as 500, were internally displaced on the PNG island of Bougainville. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was not aware of any PNG refugees from Bougainville who remained in the Solomon Islands at year's end. Because of ethnic violence on the Solomon Islands island of Guadalcanal in 1999, it is likely that some refugees from the Solomon Islands fled to Bougainville during the year; however, their number was unknown.

Papua New Guinea is a party to the UN Refugee Convention but has not enacted domestic refugee legislation.

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 1999, an estimated 8,000 of the Irian Jayans remained there, of whom about 3,500 resided at a refugee settlement at East Awin, near Kuinga in Western Province. Another 4,000 to 5,000 Irian Jayan refugees resided in informal camps adjacent to the Indonesian border. UNHCR did not provide assistance to those refugees, considering them self-sufficient.

In 1997, Papua New Guinea began implementing a "limited integration" policy for Irian Jayan refugees at East Awin – a policy still in effect in 1999. Irian Jayans who sought and obtained "permissive residency" status could continue to reside at East Awin or to relocate to other areas of the country. PNG officials said that after eight years of permissive residency, the refugees could apply for naturalization.

In 1999, Papua New Guinea began distributing residence permits to those with permissive residency. The government continued to insist that only Irian Jayans who resided in or moved to East Awin could apply. According to UNHCR, however, no significant movement to East Awin resulted from the policy. At the end of the year, the PNG government had granted permissive residency to 1,450 Irian Jayans, some of whom had moved out of East Awin and found employment. The government said those with permissive residency were "integrated into the PNG community."

UNHCR said it considered permissive residency an effective mode of local integration, because it would move the Irian Jayans away from refugee status and give them substantially greater legal rights of movement, education, and employment.

Uprooted Papua New Guineans

At the end of the year, an estimated 500 Papua New Guineans remained displaced on the PNG island of Bougainville, down significantly from last year's estimate of 2,000 to 6,000 persons. UNHCR did not know of any Bougainvillean refugees remaining in the Solomon Islands.

The displacement began in 1988, when a dispute over fair compensation in a copper mining project led to fighting between PNG government forces and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), a group that seeks independence for Bougainville. The conflict is believed to have resulted in the deaths of up to 20,000 people.

In January 1998, the PNG government and the BRA signed the Lincoln Agreement, a declaration of peace designed to end the civil war on Bougainville. The parties signed a permanent cease-fire in April 1998. A 300-member peace monitoring group, led by Australia, continued to supervise the cease-fire in 1999.

In April, as PNG and Bougainville authorities struggled over legal issues concerning the island, the two sides signed an agreement committing themselves to work toward forming the new government. In October, however, rebel leaders rejected a government offer of greater autonomy, vowing to maintain a push for independence.

At the end of the year, while Bougainville's future was still uncertain, representatives on both sides spoke of a "breakthrough" achieved after two days of talks. By signing the Hutjena Accord, the government committed itself to granting "the highest degree" of autonomy for Bougainville and to considering an eventual referendum on independence."

A decade of fighting on Bougainville produced thousands of refugees and internally displaced people. At the end of 1999, however, only an estimated 500 were internally displaced, and no PNG refugees were known to remain in the Solomon Islands (though at least several hundred Bougainvilleans were there for other reasons).

In 1999, Bougainville may have been safer than the Solomon Islands, where ethnic violence on Guadalcanal left a number of people dead and thousands displaced (see Solomon Islands). Press reports said several hundred persons fled Guadalcanal for Papua New Guinea. Although PNG officials said no Solomon Islands nationals approached them requesting refugee status or other extraordinary permission to remain in the country, UNHCR said the ease of travel between Guadalcanal and Bougainville made it possible that such cross border flight had occurred.


In July, approximately 60 Chinese asylum seekers, presumably headed for New Zealand, landed on the PNG island of New Britain. PNG officials placed them in a Salvation Army compound and arranged with the Chinese embassy in Australia for their return to Beijing. Weeks later, however, 41 were reported missing. Although it was unknown whether the Chinese wished to seek asylum, remarks by the local police chief indicated that such a claim would have been unwelcome.


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