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Rejected West Papuan asylum seekers sent to remote camp near PNG border

Yacob Mechrian Mandabayan

Yacob Mechrian Mandabayan is one of seven West Papuans deported to Papua New Guinea after seeking asylum from Australia. Photograph: West Papua Freedom Flotilla

Pacific Scoop:
Report – By Daniel Drageset

Six West Papuans who had sought asylum in Australia, but were secretly moved to Papua New Guinea by Australian authorities, have now been moved to a remote part of Western Province, near the border to the Indonesian-ruled region of West Papua.

The six, who were human rights activists, said they had fled Indonesia when security officials began searching for them after their involvement with the West Papua Freedom Flotilla from Australia, Radio New Zealand International reported.

According to Guardian Australia, the correct number of human rights activists was seven, of whom there was one woman and one child. Earlier this week, the group was moved to the East Awin camp about 50 km from the town of Kiunga.

The seven West Papuans were deported to Papua New Guinea after just two days on Boigu Island in the Torres Strait on September 24.

They were kept in a hotel room in Port Moresby before they were transported to Western Province Tuesday this week.

Two options
One of the West Papuans, Yacob Mechrian Mandabayan, told Guardian Australia the group was given two options.

“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 told the newspaper.

“[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.”

Before fleeing West Papua, the group said it 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.”

‘Very desperate conditions’ 
According to Freedom Flotilla spokesperson Ruben Blake, the conditions at the East Awin camp were very bad.

“The people living there are in very desperate conditions, they’ve got a terrible rate of malaria in that camp,” he told Radio New Zealand International’s Don Wiseman.

“The people that live there are basically not free to leave and travel around other places in PNG, and it’s an incredibly remote area of PNG where they don’t have access to basic services.”

There was no barbed wire around the camp, but Blake described the location of the camp as a “tyranny of distance”.

It would take several days, according to him, to reach Kiunga, a town of about 8000 people located some 20 km from the Indonesian border.

Blake also said that people who have lived there in the past had been “very concerned for their safety,” because of the proximity to Indonesia.

“We know from the past that there have been cross-border operations…And, yeah, we do know that there are boats from Indonesian incursions, but also at times there’s been a threat from the PNG military itself.”

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The East Awin camp is situated close to the Indonesia border in a very remote part of Papua New Guinea. Image: epress.anu.edu.au

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Daniel Drageset is the Pacific Scoop internship editor.