First Bougainvillean accorded refugee status

Issue 

First Bougainvillean accorded refugee status

By Frank Enright

SYDNEY — The threat of imprisonment, rape and possible murder has been lifted from a Bougainvillean stranded in Australia with the outbreak of war on her island. On the verge of deportation in 1991, Lillian Crofts was accorded domestic temporary status on January 27.

The granting of refugee status to Crofts has broader political implications, registering a de facto recognition by the Australian government that the conflict in Bougainville is a war and not merely an internal Papua New Guinean dispute.

Lillian Crofts was studying in Australia when the dispute, initially centring on the CRA-owned copper mine at Panguna, escalated into a struggle for independence by the Bougainvillean people.

Crofts is a member of one of the landowning clans which have been trying to negotiate a better deal since the copper mine began operation in the 1960s. The mine is on land which was forcibly taken from them by the then Australian colonial government and PNG administration.

Crofts, who supports independence and has family members active in the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA), applied for refugee status on the grounds of likely persecution on the basis of her race, gender and politics. The PNG armed forces are a law unto themselves, says Crofts, with many instances of rape, murder and other brutalities routinely reported from Bougainville. Amnesty International has documented many such claims.

"Acknowledging me as a refugee, after two and a half years of emotional pain and discrimination, is a great relief. I owe my determination to my exceptionally unique matriarchal culture, my family whom I have not seen for five and a half years ... and the beauty of Bougainville Island", commented Crofts.

Her personal jubilation is tempered by the misery being suffered by her people in the particularly dirty war at home. Having obtained a degree of personal security, Crofts says she will now openly campaign for other political refugees. There are currently three Bougainvilleans with applications for refugee status before the Australian Immigration Department.

An official from the Immigration Department was present and taking notes at the press conference organised to announce Crofts' triumph.