West Papuans seek shelter from persecution
West Papuans seek shelter from persecution
Dear Members of Parliament,
Today I find myself deeply moved, not just because a boat of young student activists and their families en route to Australia went missing (it has now been found), but also because the cry "Merdeka!", the FREEDOM cry of the people of Irian Jaya, West Papua, has been all too familiar for me since my early childhood in The Netherlands, where some of the ministers of my church, which was involved in the life of the West Papuan people through missionary posts, even inserted the word "Merdeka!" into their sermons, supporting the independence from the Sukarno regime of Irian Jaya in the 1960s - because almost as soon as Foreign Minister Joseph Luns signed the deal, Sukarno proceeded to undermine it and start a campaign of control and oppression against the Irian Jaya population.
A refugee boat sails to Australia, hoping for help and protection under the UN Convention. Last month Papuan Governor Jacob Salossa died, probably because he was poisoned. Indonesia is amassing troops into West Papua. And yes, you can get yourself thrown in jail if you raise The Morning Star, the West Papuan Flag on any days of the year outside the "official" flag raising day.
So, make this Flag, do a silk screen, make hundreds of copies and hand them out, fly them from your homes and in the streets so images of this flag make it into the National press as well as into the International press. If you're a member of Parliament, please study the Free Papua movement so you can inform yourself thoroughly - without partial and "trade-driven" considerations.
"Merdeka!" is the cry that came from many politicians and citizens in the 1960's in the Netherlands: more than 40 years ago elected centre-right Parliamentarians supported Papuan Independence. Let us not rest until the Foreign Affairs Minister, John Howard and Amanda Vanstone finally give up all of their all-to-familiar 19th century spin, their ducking and weaving, and also pluck up some courage to speak the "unspeakable" "Merdeka!". These Ministers - and several others in the Federal government - may need your help by being bombarded with letters, faxes and emails, demanding open support for the rights to live independently and un-oppressed in their homeland.
Meanwhile, those who flee imprisonment and other forms of persecution for wanting this independence - undermined since the region was handed back by the Dutch to the Sukarno regime with promises of the right to that independence in 1962, promises that were continually broken, undermined and its representatives punished and murdered - those who flee this situation, surely must be genuine refugees.
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Narrogin WA 6312
Boat people to test Jakarta ties
By Tom Allard and Andra Jackson
January 19, 2006
The Howard Government faces a potential new flashpoint in relations with Jakarta after 43 asylum seekers from the troubled Indonesian province of West Papua landed by boat at Cape York.
It is only the third boat of asylum seekers to reach the Australian mainland in four years. By reaching the mainland, they are automatically eligible to apply for refugee status.
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone confirmed yesterday that 30 men, six women and seven children had arrived.
"There was an initial concern that four of the males had left the main group, but they were subsequently located by Coastwatch and returned," Senator Vanstone said.
"Everyone in the group we have located is co-operating with officials."
A spokesman for Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda, when asked if Jakarta would demand the return of the 43, said: "First things first. We have only scant information."
An Indonesian embassy spokesman was more forthright, saying the activists were not persecuted and his Government did not believe they had grounds for asylum.
"The grounds for requesting asylum for these people are baseless," he said.
Sources said the boat landed near Mapoon, about 40 kilometres north of Weipa on Cape York's north-west coast, and that its passengers were spotted walking.
Asylum seekers have to reach the mainland to be eligible to claim refugee status after the Federal Government excised Australia's northern islands from the immigration zone.
They headed for Cape York because they knew they would not be classed as refugees if they landed on one of the Torres Straits Islands, according to Louise Byrne, the Melbourne-based convener of the Australian West Papuan Association.
Last night the asylum seekers were undergoing health checks and being interviewed by customs and Immigration Department officials at a remote location on the cape's north.
An immigration spokesman said he did not know exactly where the Papuans — who at this stage are still "unauthorised arrivals" — would spend the night.
Australian Greens senator Kerry Nettle immediately called on the Government to "do the right thing" and grant the asylum seekers bridging visas instead of putting them in detention.
A member of the Australian West Papua Association, Nick Chesterfield, praised the work of the search and rescue teams, saying they had done a "fantastic job" to find the boat amid fears for the safety of the passengers.
"A customs vessel is bringing them food and water and will make sure they are medically OK," he said.
Mr Chesterfield said the Federal Government could not in decency send the asylum seekers back to West Papua. They were independence activists who would probably meet the fate of so many of their predecessors, he said.
"The Indonesian military would not hesitate to kill them," he said.
The asylum seekers are said to include some of the province's leading independence activists and their families, including the nephew of the late West Papuan nationalist leader Thomas Wainggai. Hermon Wainggai, who has visited Australia before, reportedly brought with him his wife and twin children.
They undertook the 425-kilometre sea journey from Merauke in West Papua in a 25-metre wooden canoe, leaving last Friday.
Ms Byrne said the canoe was equipped with two outboard motors and sails as well as paddles. It was built by student activists along the traditional style.
Ms Byrne said the arrival of the 43 might mark the start of an exodus of asylum seekers following an Indonesian crackdown against the independence movement.
Jacob Rumbiak, a Melbourne spokesman for the West Papuan National Authority for Independence, said up to 200 political activists were intended to be on the boat. But an informant revealed that Indonesian authorities had got wind of their plan and the boat left while others were still making their way through the jungle. Those already at the boat refused to wait. "They didn't want to wait because if they were caught, the Indonesian military would involve their families," Mr Rumbiak said.
Papuan separatists have been pushing for independence for decades after a vote in 1969 — widely regarded as rigged — supported political integration with Indonesia. Only 1025 of Papua's estimated 1 million indigenous Melanesian residents cast a ballot.
Tension has risen in West Papua in recent weeks and months. About 10,000 Indonesian troops have been deployed there from Aceh and the arrest of 12 separatists last week provoked protests around the country.
Four of those separatists have been released but the others are in custody in Jakarta, charged with involvement in an ambush near the giant Freeport mine that left one Indonesian and two Americans dead. Papuans blame the Indonesian military for the ambush.
Australia is negotiating a security treaty with Indonesia which calls on Australia to pledge not to interfere in its "territorial integrity".
Granting asylum would be an admission by the Federal Government that the Papuans would be persecuted if they returned home.
With MARK FORBES and AAP
Foul play feared in governor's death
SUPPORTERS of Papuan Governor Jacob Salossa have raised allegations of foul play over his sudden death last week.
They are concerned that no autopsy was performed on the man who led Indonesia's easternmost province for five years.
Jakarta media reported that the 57-year-old politician died on December 19 while being taken to hospital in Jayapura.
Some reports said he had stomach pains and was foaming at the mouth; others said he had difficulty breathing and died of a heart attack.
Salossa, from Sorong in the far west of Papua, served two terms after being appointed by Jakarta in 2000.
He envisaged a third term next year when – after many delays – Papua will hold its first elections for governor.
Salossa's interim replacement is John Ibo, chairman of the parliament in Jayapura. He comes from Lake Sentani on the northern coast of Papua and was nominated as an election candidate only two weeks ago.
After Salossa's funeral last Wednesday, intense political and tribal rivalry surfaced between supporters from Sorong and Sentani.
Other candidates for governor include Constan Karma, formerly Salossa's deputy, former governor Bas Suebu, also from Sentani, and Australian-trained Lukas Enembe, who is a popular highland political figure untainted by corruption.
Salossa had a leading role in introducing special autonomy for the Papuan people over the past five years – a strategy aimed at bringing revenue back into the province.
However, much popular support for autonomy was lost when he could not stem rumours that Papuan politicians had Swiss bank accounts.
An anti-corruption drive by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has already netted two provincial governors.
Salossa has worked with Jakarta to dampen down separatist activity in the province.
This year he ordered that no one was to fly the "Morning Star" independence flag on December 1 – as Papuans do each year – to commemorate the parliament they had before Indonesia took control in the 1960s.