Australia dumps West Papuans in abandoned camp

Protesters gathered outside the immigration department CBD offices on October 18 to call on the Australian government to allow seven West Papuan asylum seekers to seek protection in Australia.

The seven West Papuans arrived in Australia’s Torres Strait on September 24. They fled West Papua, fearing reprisal for involvement with a Freedom Flotilla from Australia.

They were victims of the new federal government’s secrecy around asylum seekers. Australian activists knew the names of the asylum seekers and knew they had arrived on Australian territory, but didn't know where they were because of the government’s media blackout on boat arrivals.

This meant the asylum seekers were denied access to solidarity activists and refugee lawyers, making it easy for the Australian government to trick the asylum seekers into boarding a flight to Papua New Guinea. The asylum seekers say they were told the flight was going to Christmas Island.

The asylum seekers have now been relocated to the Iowara refugee camp in East Awin.

West Papuan refugee Maria Wally, who had lived in the Iowara refugee camp for 12 years, told protesters that all West Papuan refugees in the camp “lived in fear” because the “Indonesian military spy on the camp”.

The camp is remote. Wally said that in the wet season, people had to walk 70 kilometres to the nearest town.

West Papuan refugees living in the PNG port town Kiunga were surprised when the PNG government sent the asylum seekers to the camp.

The camp was abandoned after the PNG government granted permissive residency to the West Papuan asylum seekers living there in 1998, when the UN refugee agency ceased providing assistance to camp residents.

West Papuan refugees who continued to live in the camps survived without any assistance on land affected by the Ok Tedi mine disaster and describe the camps as a ghost town.

Ruben Blake, an organiser of the Freedom Flotilla, said that there is no electricity, no mobile phone access, and no provisions of food to residents of the camp.

Arabunna elder Uncle Kevin Buzzacott, Freedom Flotilla participant, told the protesters: “We have a responsibility to look after our brothers and sisters from across the water.

“They are welcome here in our country. The Australian government must be responsible to grant them a safe place to escape from the genocide going on in West Papua.”

Protests were also organised in Perth and Sydney.