PORT MORESBY - Seven West Papuans who claimed asylum in Australia have been told they will be sent to a remote camp in Papua New Guinea on the border of Indonesia – the country they are fleeing from.
The group, including a woman and a 10-year-old child, landed on Boigu Island in the Torres Strait on 24 September and sought protection from Australia. But they were deported two days later and handed over to PNG immigration officials in the capital of Port Moresby, where they have been kept in a hotel room since.
One of the group, Yacob Mechrian Mandabayan, told Guardian Australia via phone from Port Moresby on Friday afternoon that the seven had been given two options by PNG immigration officials when they met with them late Thursday afternoon.
“Option number one is go back to Indonesia and option number two is [claim asylum] in Papua New Guinea. We refused the two options,” he said.
“Refugees like us in PNG cannot have a good life,” Mandabayan said.
“[The PNG government] has not given citizenship to other West Papuan activists before us when they came here. We have a 10-year-old kid here, he needs education.
“Also in PNG we can see a lot of Indonesian people. Indonesia can pay those people to kidnap us or do something to us, that’s why we feel unsafe in Papua New Guinea.”
After refusing the offer, the group were told they would be sent to a camp in Kiunga, in PNG’s Western province, where other West Papuan refugees reside, Mandabayan said.
“In Google maps, you can see that Kiunga is really close to the border [with Indonesia]. That’s why we’re afraid.”
Before fleeing West Papua, the group said they had received threats from the Indonesian military for taking part in a protest against the Indonesian occupation of the province.
Mandabayan told Guardian Australia at the time: "We've become refugees in our own country and we ask your help to expose our situation here. We need your help. Please.”
The group is now questioning the legality of their removal from Australia.
On 30 September, the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, told the media that the West Papuans had been removed under a 2003 memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Papua New Guinea.
But that MOU requires asylum seekers be in PNG for seven or more days before arriving in Australia. The seven West Papuans repeatedly told Australian immigration officials that they only spent two nights in PNG before arriving on Boigu Island.
Morrison later admitted the agreement had been relaxed. "There was a concession agreed between the two governments," he said.
Mandabayan told Guardian Australia, “Why does [Australia] treat us like a criminal? We came as refugees to Australia, seeking asylum and protection in Australia; why do they treat us like a criminal? They dumped us here, and now the PNG government is doing the same thing.”
A spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, said, “Scott Morrison has admitted that the government did not follow the 2003 MOU and returned them to PNG despite the fact they had not been in PNG for more than seven days as required by the MOU.
“It seems that the West Papuans have been unlawfully removed from Australia.”
“Scott Morrison flicked the West Papuans to PNG to keep them ‘out of sight and out of mind’ to avoid any embarrassment with Indonesia. Now, the PNG government is following Australia’s lead and flicking them to a remote camp,” he said. [TheGuardian]