Weekend Australian . reports on WP asylum seekers -1
Mar 24, 2006 12:27 PST
The Weekend Australian
25 March 2006
Indonesia's refugee anger over Papuans
Cath Hart and Sian Powell
INDONESIA has recalled its ambassador to Australia and described as
"deplorable" Canberra's decision to grant temporary protection visas to 42
West Papuan asylum-seekers who said they feared for their lives if they were
In the greatest threat to bilateral ties since Australia led peacekeeping
forces into the former Indonesian province of East Timor in 1999, angry
Indonesian ministers accused Australia of "double standards".
A strongly worded official Indonesian government statement even raised the
threat of Jakarta weakening its commitment to stop boatpeople coming to
Dick Woolcott, former ambassador to Indonesia and head of the Department of
Foreign Affairs, said last night he could not recall Jakarta's envoy ever
before being recalled.
Jakarta's statement said: "The Government of Indonesia is surprised,
disappointed and deeply deploring the decision."
It said Australia's "vigorous" rejection of many asylum-seekers was in
"stark contrast" to the "hasty accommodation" given to the 42 Papuans.
"The Indonesian Government cannot but detect the application of a double
standard in this respect because in many other cases of asylum-seeking, the
Government of Australia has vigorously rejected them."
The rift erupted on Thursday after the Department of Immigration found 42 of
the 43 West Papuans - who landed on Cape York in an outrigger canoe in
January - had a well-founded fear of persecution and issued them temporary
The Papuans, who include pro-independence activists and their families, have
accused Jakarta of committing "genocide" in the troubled former Dutch colony
taken by Indonesia in the 1960s.
The Weekend Australian has learned that a torture expert who met the group
told Immigration officials he felt they had "strong and consistent" claims.
But Indonesia has slammed the decision and said it confirmed suspicions that
separatists were working out of Australia.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the Indonesian ambassador
Hamzah Thayeb would return to Indonesia "as soon as a plane can bring our
ambassador home". Last night the ambassador boarded a plane in Canberra
bound for Singapore via Melbourne.
The move came 24 hours after Australia's ambassador to Jakarta, Bill Farmer,
a former head of the Immigration Department, was summoned to the Indonesian
Foreign Ministry to receive a formal protest.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin said its envoy was being called back
to Jakarta for "consultations". "It is not a permanent recall, but it is
important because there are issues that need to be discussed over this
incident," he said.
Australia played down any suggestions the decision represented a change in
foreign policy regarding Indonesia's sovereignty over West Papua.
On Thursday, John Howard called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang
Yudhoyono and reassured him there was no change in policy and the visa
decision was based on individual cases under Australian law.
Foreign Minster Alexander Downer said yesterday he had explained to Dr
Wirajuda that the decision was a bureaucratic one, determined by an
assessment of individual cases.
"I pointed out to him that even if the Department of Immigration rejected
all the applications, then they could appeal to the Refugees Review Tribunal
and they could appeal to the Federal Court, they could ultimately appeal to
the High Court and this could take years," Mr Downer said.
The Indonesian Government offered to guarantee the safety of the group if
The first of the asylum-seekers were flown to Perth late yesterday from
Christmas Island where they had been held in detention. They will be
resettled in Melbourne.
Jakarta claimed the DIMA decision was "baseless and without legal merit" and
reiterated its assertion the group were not being sought by authorities and
were not subject to persecution.
A DIMA spokesman said the decision to grant the three-year protection visas
was made by a senior DIMA bureaucrat with a legal background after
interviews with the 42 West Papuans and their advocates.
A torture expert from the Immigration Detention Advisory Group, who
travelled with the DIMA team and interviewed the group on Christmas Island,
said the group's claims of torture were consistent and genuine.
Paris Aristotle, who is also Director of the Victorian Foundation for
Survivors of Torture, said the Papuans had described being imprisoned,
beaten and tortured.
"What they were describing and how they were describing it was very
consistent with other past experiences of other experiences of persecution
in other countries, both within our own region and in other parts of the
world as well," Mr Aristotle said.
"I thought the group had strong and consistent claims."
DIMA officials reviewed analysis of the situation in Indonesia, drawing on
the annual US State Department Country Report on Human Rights, which cited
torture, killings and "other serious human rights abuses in Papua".
The DIMA spokesman said no consideration had been given to the diplomatic
impact of the decision.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said the Government had his
bipartisan support on the matter and said it was regrettable Indonesia had
recalled the ambassador.
Editorial: Visas hit their limit
Jakarta must be reassured over Papuan asylum-seekers
WHEN 43 Papuan separatists washed up on Cape York last January in a 25m
outrigger canoe and demanded asylum, they opened up the biggest rift in
Australia-Indonesian relations since East Timor – one that has led to the
recall of Indonesia's ambassador to Jakarta for "consultations". The
granting on Thursday of temporary protection visas to 42 of the 43
asylum-seekers – some of whom had previously done time in Indonesian jails
for hoisting independence flags and committing other crimes of "rebellion" –
has infuriated Jakarta. With Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone's decision
to issue the visas comes a tacit acknowledgment by Canberra that these
separatists hold legitimate fear of facing persecution were they to be
returned to their home country. And indeed this is almost surely the case:
those involved in separatist activities on the resource-rich island province
of eastern Indonesia have faced summary beatings and arrests, while the US
State Department's human rights assessment of Indonesia speaks of
extrajudicial killings, torture and the arbitrary detention of activists.
But while Indonesia's human rights record in Papua may be troubling, and the
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs may have rankled Jakarta
by granting the visas – Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono even
telephoned Prime Minister John Howard to lobby against the decision – this
should not be allowed to upset the increasingly close and vital relationship
between the two nations. The situation in Papua today is quite different to
that in East Timor years ago. And Indonesians, from Mr Yudhoyono on down,
must understand that the decision to grant these 42 visas was
administrative, not political (even if this logic is slightly disingenuous),
and that Australia has no interest in an independent Papua or the
balkanisation of our northern neighbour. This was underlined earlier this
month by Australia's US ambassador, Dennis Richardson, who told a
US-Indonesia business lunch, at which Indonesia's US ambassador was present:
"Papua is part of the sovereign territory of Indonesia and always has been.
As far as Australia is concerned, Papua is an integral part of Indonesia."
We have too many common interests with Indonesia, the world's most populous
Muslim nation and a functioning democracy that has lately made great strides
against corruption – from illegal fishing to people-smuggling to terrorism –
to let the relationship be sidetracked by this one issue. Despite its
bluster, Jakarta should get this.
In repairing relations with Jakarta, it will be important for Canberra – and
indeed all players – to accept the decision as made in Amanda Vanstone's
office and not John Howard's. Of course, the visas would never have been
granted without the Prime Minister's approval, but this fact is one that, if
quietly ignored, will let all parties save face. And there is a sense
Jakarta is willing to play the game. When the Indonesian Department of
Foreign Affairs announced it was summoning the Australian ambassador to
Jakarta in for a not-so-friendly chat on Thursday, the statement referred to
"the decision by (DIMA)" – not the decision by the Howard Government. This
may seem like hair-splitting semantics, but it's the sort of language that
opens the door for a repair of the relationship at the highest levels. Of
course, it would be best if the Papuans and the central Government in
Jakarta could sit down in an atmosphere of mutual dialogue in the same way
the Acehnese did after the Boxing Day tsunami, carving out a fragile peace.
But until that happens, Indonesia must understand that acknowledging rights
abuses and calling for independence are two separate things. The
relationship between our two countries is too important to be sidetracked by
this one issue.
Greg Sheridan: Trouble by the boatload
IS there another boat on the way? This is the question now in
Australia-Indonesia relations after the granting of temporary protection
visas to 42 West Papuans. The West Papuans came here by boat and claimed
they were being persecuted in the troublesome province of Indonesia.
This is a big, big, big story.
In response to the Australian grant of protection visas, Jakarta withdrew
its ambassador and there were angry denunciations of Australia by Indonesian
While naturally we do not know the precise motivations of the people who
came here by boat, their action is a brilliant stroke in the ongoing
political drama of Indonesia, Australia and West Papua.
West Papua could be the new East Timor of Australia-Indonesia relations,
only much more troublesome and of much greater long-term significance. The
Howard Government understands the stakes very well. It had limited leverage
over the decision to grant asylum, which is undertaken after an independent
review process by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has done everything in his power to
prepare the Indonesians for this decision.
At the end of February Downer went to Jakarta for a day, ostensibly to
attend a conference on terrorism. His true purpose was to speak to his
Indonesian counterpart, Hassan Wirajuda, about the Papuans. He had four
central points to make to Wirajuda.
First, that the Australian Government was steadfastly committed to the
policy that West Papua was part of Indonesia and that Indonesia had
legitimate and permanent sovereignty over West Papua.
Second, that Australia supported President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's
efforts to bring about a political settlement in West Papua through a
special autonomy package.
Third, that the formal decision on granting temporary protection visas to
those involved was not a question of government policy. It would be decided
first by immigration department officials acting under set rules that
involved international law and treaty obligations.
And fourth, that even if the Papuans were rejected by the department, they
would be in Australia for a substantial time because they would inevitably
appeal to the Refugee Review Tribunal, and after that to the Federal Court
and then the High Court. This whole process could take years.
Downer may not have made the point but such a prolonged process, with the
Papuans cast as victims, may well have done much more to polarise Australian
opinion against Indonesian rule in West Papua than a decision allowing them
At one level, the Indonesians have taken this calmly. Wirajuda was polite
and friendly in all his conversations with Downer. However, for Indonesia to
recall its ambassador is a very serious diplomatic step. It did not take
this step all through the turmoil of East Timor.
The official Indonesian statement draws attention to Australia's repeated
determination to keep out boatpeople from Middle East nations. These
included Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power and Afghanistan when the
Taliban was in power. The Indonesians are affronted that they are seen as
not only persecuting their citizens in West Papua but in some sense are
registered as worse than these Middle East nations.
But perhaps the most telling sentence in the Indonesian statement was this:
"The decision justifies speculations that there are elements in Australia
that support separatist movement in Papua."
Many Indonesians see West Papua, and Australia's involvement in it, as
another East Timor. For many years Canberra reassured Jakarta that its
policy was to recognise Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor, but in the
end, from Indonesia's point of view, Australia was crucial in East Timor
Many Indonesians suspect Australia of having a secret, similar game plan for
West Papua. The international debate on West Papua will occur mainly in
Australia. It will be led mainly by Australian non-government organisations.
It will percolate to the rest of the international community through
Australian-based activists. And if an independence referendum is held, it
will be because Australia has changed policy. And it will almost inevitably
involve Australian soldiers, during the vote or just after.
Some elements of this widespread Indonesian perception are clearly wrong.
Canberra never had a conspiracy to make East Timor independent but got
caught up in a series of unpredictable events. It was the Indonesians who
decided to hold a referendum on the issue and once that decision was made
the movement of Australian public opinion was inevitable.
Certainly the Howard Government has absolutely no desire to see an
independent West Papua.
Nonetheless, it faces an exquisite dilemma. There are certainly human rights
abuses in West Papua and Canberra cannot and should not be blind to that.
But in trying to support human rights in West Papua, Canberra wants to give
no comfort to the independence movement.
The stakes for Indonesia are enormous. Indonesia has only just got military
to military relations re-established with Washington. It is just beginning
to attract new foreign investment and register good economic growth. If West
Papua becomes an international cause celebre, this could all come under
There are two ways this could happen. A single, gross act of disastrous
policy, such as some heavy-handed security operation or massacre, could
inflame international opinion, especially in the US Congress. Alternatively,
if a succession of Papuan activists were to row to Australia and repeatedly
test our refugee assessment machinery, building on the precedents of these
West Papuans, this could become a running sore in the relationship and give
the issue a new, heightened international profile. As well as giving
Australia a whole new boatpeople problem.
The most encouraging factor is that the Indonesian Government, especially
the President, has a lot invested in the relationship with Australia. It
won't want to blow it all away over this one incident. Things can probably
shortly return to normal.
Unless, of course, there are new boats on the horizon.
Dennis Shanahan: With own petard
AUSTRALIAN-INDONESIAN relations have hit their lowest point since the
rupture over the independence of East Timor seven years ago.
Indonesia's displeasure is as forthright as it can be in diplomatic terms.
Jakarta described Australia's actions as deplorable and hypocritical, and
late yesterday dramatically recalled its new ambassador to Canberra, Hamzah
Tayeb, for "consultations".
Indonesia's displeasure is understandable because it sees itself as betrayed
by the Howard Government.
This is a supreme test of the relationship John Howard has built with the
Indonesian leadership, especially President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who
gives Australia its brightest prospect of building enduring and sustainable
The threat to long-term relations is far greater than the popular
condemnation of Indonesia over the Schapelle Corby or Bali Nine drug cases.
The real threat here is that Indonesia sees Australia heading down the same
path with West Papua that it took with East Timor, which eventually led to
the loss of Indonesian sovereignty.
There are no such plans: the Howard Government is not about to embark on
another human rights crusade and threaten Indonesia's territorial integrity
John Howard and Alexander Downer have been trying to reassure their
counterparts in Jakarta of this over the past two days.
The Prime Minister underlined his Foreign Minister's efforts in a
conversation with the Indonesian President on Thursday.
Yet the Indonesian Government was making every forceful gesture it could
yesterday and even raised the spectre of weakening its hard-fought
co-operation in stopping boatloads of asylum-seekers using Indonesia as a
launching base for trips to Australia.
The Howard Government's attitude to the boatpeople is now being used against
The Indonesian reasoning is simple: Australia's decision to grant temporary
protection visas to 42 West Papuans confirms the view that West Papuans are
under threat and in fear of their lives from Indonesian security forces, and
this could be the thin end of the wedge for a change in policy towards
The Indonesians point to Australia's unflinching refusal to accept previous
asylum-seekers and yet its readiness to accept West Papuans now.
They recognise the nascent freedom movement in Australia for West Papua, and
are fearful of growing public sympathy for the West Papuans in this country.
The Indonesians are wary of the Howard Government's claims that it is only
following the rule of law in individual cases. The outpouring of
anti-Indonesian hostility over drug cases in Bali suggest Australians view
court cases with a political eye when it suits them.
This is a serious dilemma for the Howard Government as it stands wedged
between its need to co-operate with Indonesia and the push to adopt a more
caring refugee policy in Australia.
Hoist with his own petard.