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West Papuan asylum seekers must be treated fairly

Call for West Papuan asylum seekers to be treated fairly.

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee is calling on the Australian Prime Minister and Immigration Minister to release the 43 West Papuan asylum seekers detained on Christmas Island. They should be given protection or bridging visas and their refugee claims should be processed on the Australian mainland with the help of independent legal assistance. They have fled a situation of great repression. Letter follows:

Rt Hon John Howard and Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone,

C/- His Excellency, The Australian High Commissioner, PO Box 4036

Fax: 04 498 7135

Dear John Howard and Amanda Vanstone,

We are gravely concerned about the situation of the 43 West Papuans who are currently seeking asylum in Australia.

We understand that the group which includes women and children, made the perilous 425 kilometre journey to Cape York in 25m traditional dugout canoe that was fitted with an outboard motor and was flying the outlawed West Papuan flag. They held aloft a banner which read :
"Save West Papua people soul from genocide intimidation and terorist from military government of Indonesian," "Also we West Papuan need freedom peace love and justice in our home land."

We note with appreciation that Australia offered immediate assistance to the exhausted group. However, we believe that international law requires that the West Papuans should have all the rights and privileges associated with their status as persons with a “with a well founded fear of being persecuted” as stipulated in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention.

We therefore urge that they be processed on the Australian mainland rather than on remote Christmas Island so that they can have access to independent legal advice and support. The asylum seekers could easily be accommodated in the community with fellow West Papuans or with church volunteers.

All the news reports suggest that the group includes many independence activists who will undoubtedly face severe military reprisals for their actions from the Indonesian military if they are not given a safe haven in Australia.

The tension in the highlands region, the home area for this group, is now at a very dangerous level. In the last two weeks 12 West Papuan were arrested under circumstances that amounted to entrapment and 8 of the group have now been taken to Jakarta for trial. On 20 January 2006, Indonesian troops from unit 753 based in the troubled Paniai region, West Papua fired apparently randomly into the Waghette local market causing death of a 14 year old student and seriously injuring 2 other young people, Yolice Kotokil, 18, and Petrus Pekey,19.

International human rights organizations, in cooperation with West Papuan rights organisations have thoroughly documented the widespread and intensifying abuse in West Papua carried out by Indonesian authorities, primarily by the military and police. In December 2003, Yale Law School published a comprehensive report that suggested that the situation was so serious that it warranted deeper study to establish whether the crimes were extensive enough to meet the criteria defined in the United Nations Genocide Convention.

The crimes documented in the Yale report and in a more recent report from the Sidney based Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies include extrajudicial killings, acts of torture, disappearance, rape, and sexual violence. There has also been destruction of Papuan resources and crops, and many cases of forced relocation. The Papuan people have had no say over transmigration schemes which have resulted in a marginalisation of Papuans in commerce and in an erosion of traditional subsistence practices. West Papua is also subject to a serious and largely unchecked epidemic of HIV/Aids. Late last year the Indonesian media reported on the famine deaths of 55 people in the Yahukimo regency

It is also well established that the Indonesian military continue to operate with impunity and have not faced justice for crimes in East Timor and other historic massacres. Recent new troop deployments coupled with the continuing development of "militia" to intimidate the local population causes a highly volatile situation.

We therefore strongly urge that the refugees should under no circumstances be interviewed by Indonesian officials. Instead the refugees should be issued with protection visas with full rights including legal assistance to prepare their full refugee claims.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater

For the Indonesia Human Rights Committee

© Scoop Media

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