West Papua refugees sent to Australia's Christmas Island Detention Centre

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Wikinews Australia has in-depth coverage of this issue: 43 West Papuans seek asylum

A group of 43 West Papuan asylum seekers found on Cape York were herded on to an RAAF Hercules and flown to Australia's Christmas Island Detention Centre on Thursday. The Immigration Department says the single men in the group will be detained in the remote facility, and the six women and seven children will be accommodated in staff housing.

The group left the Papuan port town of Merauke on Friday in an outrigger canoe and landed on Tuesday at Janey Creek, north of the Mapoon Aboriginal community on western Cape York, without being detected.

Police, immigration and customs officials prevented the group communicating with media in Weipa, where the group were detained in Queensland's far north. The group was kept under close guard throughout the day, with the media required to remain at least 25m away.

Officials accompanied the asylum seekers on toilet breaks and trips to the Weipa hospital, covering the heads of the new arrivals with blankets or jackets.

Immigrationl officials will interview the group, assessing their claims for asylum, while at the remote island detention facility on Christmas Island, 2,600km north-west of Perth.

The Department says the Papuans are being transferred as part of the long-standing government policy to process unauthorised arrivals offshore, not because mainland detention centres lack capacity. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the group would be treated the same as any other boat arrivals.

John Wing from the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies says Indonesian military activity has been increasing in Papua which may encourage more people to seek asylum in Australia.

"This may be a trend that we see developing over the coming year or two as the military operations are stepped up in Papua against the local people. As in other parts of the world, the fighting and the human rights situation becomes too grim in one's homeland, he said, "these people are forced to flee to the place of nearest sanctuary and in this part of the world, for the Papuans, it's Australia."

Mr Wing says he believes a prominent student activist is part of the group of asylum seekers. He says the man has already spent time in jail for attending independence meetings and could be persecuted if he is sent back to Papua.

"Many villages have been burned to the ground; houses, clinics, schools, churches have all been destroyed by arson, by the Indonesian armed forces, and some of these refugees are from that area," he said.

The Indonesian embassy says there is no persecution in Papua.

The 36 adults and seven children are the third boatload of asylum-seekers to land on the Australian mainland in the past four years.