PNG figures


Papua New Guinea (PNG) hosted about 10,000 refugees, the vast majority from the West Papua region of Indonesia, formerly called Irian Jaya. The West Papuans began arriving in the 1960s after Indonesia gained control of the region, with the largest number entering between 1984 and 1986. Around 5,000 West Papuans resided in the border areas and about 2,500 lived in the 6,000-hectare East Awin settlement, 1,600 of whom were born there. About 2,000 West Papuans lived in other urban areas, while there were a few non-Melanesian urban asylum seekers and refugees in Port Moresby, Vanimo, and Daru.

The PNG Government was more sympathetic to the possibility of local integration for West Papuan refugees than for the small population of non-Melanesians.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reported cases of refoulement in 2007, but PNG lacked national refugee guidelines. Authorities attempted to return three Nigerian asylum seekers to Indonesia, but Indonesian authorities refused to accept them without travel documents. With the absence of refugee legislation, there were no screening procedures at borders or ports to differentiate between illegal migrants and refugees. Authorities intercepted an unknown number of illegal migrants for illegal entry and working without permits.

PNG was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, but maintained seven reservations to the Convention's articles regarding employment, housing, public education, freedom of movement, the unlawful presence of refugees, expulsion, and naturalization. The 1978 Migration Act and its 1989 amendments permitted the Government to "determine a non-citizen to be a refugee," but PNG had no specific refugee legislation or administrative provisions for determining refugee status. Beginning in 1996, the Government granted Permissive Residency Permits (PRPs) to West Papuan refugees living in the East Awin settlement for at least six months. Refugees living outside East Awin were not eligible. The permit was renewable every three years and after eight years, permit holders became eligible for naturalization. Refugees in Port Moresby reported, however, they were not eligible for citizenship. The application for citizenship cost roughly $3,300, and the Citizenship Advisory Committee (CAC), which examined naturalization cases, met last in 2000. The secretary of the West Papuan urban settlement of Eight-Mile reported that permit holders paid taxes.

By mid-year, the Government had officially recognized only about 2,500 refugees. The Immigration and Citizenship Division had extensive delays in the process and only issued PRPs to Melanesian refugees while the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sought to arrange third country resettlement for others. If accepted for asylum in PNG, however, refugees were not eligible for third-country resettlement.

Detention/Access to Courts

Three Myanmarese crossed into PNG in April seeking asylum in Australia, but authorities detained them for three months in Vanimo prison. Authorities later released them and allowed them to wait in the town while the Government considered their asylum claims.

Authorities detained five West Papuan refugees for attempting to travel to Australia without documents. The refugees escaped, but Australian authorities sent them back and Papuan authorities detained them at the East Awin settlement on the Indonesian border without charges. Under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Australian Government, PNG accepted Australia's return of asylum seekers or refugees who had transited through PNG for a minimum of seven days. Once PNG border authorities interviewed the asylum seekers, if they accepted their claims, they either gave them the option of returning to Indonesia voluntarily or allowed them to stay in PNG at the East Awin settlement.

In October, about 100 West Papuan refugees were camping in a squatter settlement outside of UNHCR offices at Ela Beach in Port Moresby, protesting their eviction from Eight-Mile, when a local magistrate crashed into their tents with his car while drunk. An unidentified group attacked and stoned the magistrate to death. Police detained four refugees for the magistrate's murder.

In February 2008, a court acquitted the four refugees for lack of evidence. The victim's family sought compensation from UNHCR, the Government, and the West Papuan community for the death.

For refugee children born in PNG, in 2005 the Government began issuing birth certificates recognizing them as PNG citizens, which allowed them to work legally, go to school, obtain legal employment, and later open a bank account and obtain credit. West Papuans who resided in PNG for more than five years were at risk of becoming stateless under Indonesian law, so the birth certificates served as an additional protection against statelessness.

A local government administrator oversaw the East Awin settlement to resolve disputes.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government granted PRPs to the 2,500 refugees living in the East Awin settlement, which gave them conditional freedom of movement and allowed them to choose their place of residence but did not permit them to live in the border areas of Western and East Sepik Provinces. About 30 percent of PRP holders had moved away from the settlement. The Government did not recognize or extend the same rights to the 5,000 refugees who lived near the Indonesian border.

A private landowner and former cabinet member evicted about 400 West Papuan refugees from Eight-Mile where they had squatted for nearly 20 years. Local authorities issued the first eviction notice in 2006 and the second in September 2007, during which police began cutting down banana trees around the settlement as a way to coerce the refugees into leaving, While about 100 of the refugees remained at Eight-Mile intending to voluntarily repatriate to Indonesia, about 100 refugees responded to the eviction by setting up temporary tents outside the UNHCR offices on Ela Beach in Port Moresby to demand citizenship or resettlement to a third country.

In October, the situation of the refugees camping on Ela Beach was further complicated when a local magistrate was stoned to death after crashing his vehicle into the settlement while drunk. Local police charged 4 refugees with the murder, and transferred about 140 to the local Boroko police station for their own protection out of fear of reprisals by the magistrate's family. By January 2008, the local police were threatening to evict the refugees from the police station, but the Government had identified temporary land to use in Gerehu and Morata and was preparing to transfer them as an interim measure.

The 1978 Migration Act and its 1989 amendments permitted the Government to designate relocation centers where refugees must live, allowing authorities to "use such force as is reasonably necessary for the purpose of taking a person to a relocation centre."

PNG authorities prevented five West Papuan refugees from traveling to Australia without documents. The refugees escaped, but Australian authorities later sent them back. Refugees with PRPs were supposed to have access to international travel documents on a case-by-case basis if they could show urgent need and financial support, but refugees in the Port Moresby settlements reported that they could not obtain them.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees who held PRPs had the same rights as nationals to work and engage in business. They largely relied on subsistence farming. In the East Awin settlement, refugees sold produce in the towns of Kiunga and Tabubil, but their only access to other villages was via a single dirt road that was impassable in the wet season.

Public Relief and Education

The Government cooperated with UNHCR and nongovernmental organizations to aid refugees and asylum seekers. Those with PRP permits had access to heath services and education. Only a few international or domestic NGOs worked for refugees in PNG, and most had religious affiliations. The Catholic Diocese of Daru-Kiunga in the Western Province provided health and educational services, including medical clinics, teachers' salaries, and financial aid to students in grades seven and above.

West Papuan refugees in the border region of Vanimo reported receiving no assistance aside from temporary land allotments granted by local private landowners.

Local police, the Red Cross, and the Salvation Army provided food rations to the West Papuan refugees camping at the Boroko police station in Port Moresby. Conditions there became unhygienic toward year's end but, in contrast to their encampment at Ela Beach, the refugees had access to toilets, shower facilities, running water, and electricity – for many of them, for the first time since fleeing 30 years ago.

A 2005 interim development strategy paper drafted for the World Bank did not mention West Papuans or refugees in PNG.


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