Weekend Australian . reports on WP asylum seekers -2
Mar 24, 2006 12:38 PST
Lost at sea in political storm
FRELYING on nothing more than the word of a good friend and their faith in
God, the West Papuan 43 turned their dugout canoe south and made for
It was January 13 and the five families of 37 adults and six children were
heading, literally and politically, into a storm.
Instead of the six to eight hours they had been told it would take to cross
from the southernmost point of Irian Jaya to Weipa on the tip of Cape York,
the group were lost at sea for four days.
They had originally left from Jayapura on the north coast of Irian Jaya, and
used the canoe, powered by an outboard motor, to hop between coastal
villages and towns until they reached Merauke.
It was there they were told Australia was just hours away.
"Nobody helped us," said Henock Nawiea, a spokesman for 10 of the group now
receiving medical treatment in Perth.
"Our friend, an activist in Merauke, he said it would be six to eight hours.
"We lost the way in the middle of the ocean and we were in the ocean four
days after that, because we don't know the way from Merauke to Australia and
there was bad weather and we didn't bring our food and drink.
"We were thirsty and hungry and very scared and it make us weak and we had
some people sick."
The canoe had been made by the father of Herman Wainggai, who organised the
Mr Wainggai, who remains on Christmas Island with 33 of the group, last
night thanked the Australian Government for accepting their plea for asylum.
"We wish to express our respectful thanks for this decision to the
Australian Government, the Department of Immigration and also I wish to
thank the people of Australia who have helped and welcomed us.
"We also wish to thank God."
The Indonesian Government has said none of the 43 were being persecuted or
sought by authorities when they left Irian Jaya and their safety was
guaranteed if they return.
But the group last night rejected the assurances saying "Indonesian talk"
was not to be trusted.
Mr Nawiea claimed that 300 West Papuan villagers who fled to Papua New
Guinea in 2002 were encouraged to return with promises of improved welfare
and housing, only to be imprisoned, tortured or killed.
"We don't want to go back. We know the Indonesian talk," he said.
Mr Nawiea, an IT student and political activist, said he was imprisoned and
beaten in Timika, on the central south coast, for several days in 2002
before fleeing into the mountains and hiding from the authorities.
"My situation in West Papua was unsafe," he said. "Sometimes they come
looking for me and some of my friends, so our life there was very
"In Timika people not live proper like other people, like in Java. They
can't talk in Timika. They get angry to us if we make demonstrations."
Mr Nawiea brought his 21-year-old sister and 12-year-old nephew with him to
Australia. The boy's father, who is active in the West Papua freedom
movement, has been missing for about a week in Jayapura.
The West Papua 43 are expected to be transferred from detention on Christmas
Island to freedom in Melbourne next week.
Those in Perth are being treated for symptoms of TB, stomach complaints and
one for a leg injury. But the group remains fearful for the safety of their
friends and families and for the future of the province under Indonesian
"Many people are killed already and they are going to kill and torture many
of the people there," Mr Nawiea said.
Life in exile will require a lot of adjustment, according to Australian West
Papuan community matriarch Anto Rumwaropen.
"They will be very traumatised, especially the children," Ms Rumwaropen said
of the newest members of the 4000-strong Australian-West Papuan community.
"I know what it is like to try to find somewhere to live away from the
oppression, away from the Indonesian military, but to find also a place
where you can continue the struggle for our country to be free," she said.
She was four years old when Indonesia began its takeover of West Papua on
May 1, 1963. At 20 when she fled with her political songwriter husband
Augustus and his reggae band, the Black Brothers, in 1979.
Lawyer's representing the group expect the 43rd member to be granted asylum
in the coming weeks.
Students hide in the jungle
Sian Powell, Jakarta correspondent
INDONESIAN security forces continued to hunt for students in hiding in
Papua's jungles yesterday.
While Jakarta furiously denied the asylum-seekers had been persecuted, the
Indonesian navy confirmed it was upgrading bases on the Papuan coast.
"That (asylum-seekers) is a tactical problem," said Commodore Abdul Malik
Yusuf, adding that keeping watch for asylum-seekers was only a small part of
the navy's brief.
Indonesian Human Rights Commission regional chief in Papua Albert Rumbekwan
said he was concerned others would follow the 43 asylum-seekers who had
sailed to Australia.
"When feelings of fear are very high, that can happen," he said.
Hundreds of students remained frightened to leave the jungles on the
outskirts of Papua's provincial capital Jayapura. On the run after they were
caught up in a riot at Cendrawasih University last week, some of the
students have been eating leaves, too frightened to come out into the open.
Such a predicament is common in Papua where independent observers believe
the security forces routinely assault and oppress the people of Indonesia's
remote eastern province.
Arnoldus Omba, a student at the University of Science and Technology in
Jayapura, said he and seven others had been living in the wild since last
week. "We eat whatever we can eat," he said. "Young leaves, cassava root,
and we hunt birds too."
Mr Omba said he was terrified of capture. "We're frightened we will be
killed by them (the police)," he said. "We're not criminals."
Cendrawasih University criminology academic Basir Rohrohman said the
students had not returned to the campus. "They're refugees, because they're
terrified by the hunt of the security forces," he said.
Mr Rumbekwan said the protest last week, which left four police officers and
an airforce officer dead, drew international attention to the brutality
rampant in the province.
"The security forces took their revenge with assaults and torture," he said.
"Now the religious and social leaders and the NGOs are warning the people
not to do anything which could bring damage on everyone. Because of what
happened, many people are terrified, they have fled and they are hiding in
Australia has routinely refused to support Papuan claims for independence,
although the Free Papua Movement (OPM) has reportedly in the past had some
support from Australian-funded NGOs.
For decades, Australia was one of the only nations in the world to recognise
Indonesia's annexation of East Timor, and Australian support for Indonesia's
national integrity has been equally firm, a policy of both the Labor and
Papua was integrated into Indonesia following an "Act of Free Choice" in
1969 but most Papuans condemn the referendum of 1000 "people's
representatives" as a whitewash.
Papuan police spokesman Kartono Wangsa Disastra said officers were still
hunting 12 suspects.
He conceded another detachment of Indonesia's notorious paramilitary police
had been sent to the province, but he said there was nothing for the
innocent to fear.
Yet Father Max Dometau, from the Papuan Presidium Council, said Papuans had
learned to fear the security forces.
"The students are still being hunted and it's difficult to reassure them
it's safe to return because they're still traumatised," he said.
He had heard the students who were still on the run would look for asylum in
Papua New Guinea and in Australia. "It's because they don't feel safe," he
Indonesia is irate we have accepted 42 asylum-seekers, writes Jakarta
correspondent Sian Powell
HIDING in a tattered hut in West Papua's dense jungle and existing on food
brought by sympathetic villagers, university student Everistus Kayep is
confused by the maelstrom that has engulfed his life.
Two weeks ago he was studying maths and management at Cendrawasih
University, on the outskirts of West Papua's provincial capital of Jayapura.
A native Papuan, he had been monitoring the accelerating tension in
Indonesia's remote and resource-rich province. Demonstrations had erupted in
Java while hundreds of kilometres to the east, in West Papua, blockades were
manned by tribal locals armed with bows and arrows, skirmishes broke out at
the Sheraton Hotel in Timika and security guards employed by the giant
US-run Freeport gold and copper mine were attacked. Resentment was building.
West Papuans believed they were being robbed of their wealth: profits from
their gold and copper, timber and gas were funnelled straight back to
Jakarta, leaving the province mired in poverty and disease. They feared the
often brutal Indonesian security forces and saw the collapse of their hopes
for autonomy and the forcible splitting of their province. The
five-month-old Papuan People's Council, or MRP, was on the verge of
collapse. Once seen by West Papuans as the shining hope of autonomy, the
council has simply been ignored by Jakarta.
West Papuans are oppressed, marginalised and sometimes tortured, according
to reputable judges, including the US Department of State. On Thursday,
independent assessors at Australia's Department of Immigration and
Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs said 42 of the 43 West Papuan
asylum-seekers who sought sanctuary would be offered visas, a decision
tantamount to conceding they had been persecuted and one that infuriated
Thursday was a turning point for many West Papuans, a rare victory in a
campaign that has been riddled with violence and punctuated with world
leaders routinely and regularly denying support for the rebels. Yet in
Indonesia the denial is too often seen as support for the way West Papuan
troubles have been handled and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, despite
his 2004 election promises, has done little to ease the pain in the
Ten days ago Kayep joined a protest outside the university, which
disintegrated into a riot that left dead four police officers and one air
"My task was to document it, I was taking photos," he says. "As I was taking
a photo of a police officer being mobbed, I was almost shot with a rubber
bullet." Police later said they found a car nearby full of rocks, along with
Molotov cocktails, knives and bows and arrows.
"We didn't do that; we students only prepared speeches, banners and
pamphlets," Kayep says from his hide-out. "We don't hate the police, we are
just struggling for the closure of Freeport."
He believes a double game was being played out. "That intelligence officer
from the air force [who was dressed in civilian clothes], he was doing the
provoking," he explains. "The evening before he was disturbing people,
riding a bike and shouting 'Oi'. The next day he came again and people saw
him throwing rocks at Brimob [Indonesia's brutal paramilitary police]."
Police have denied using provocateurs and have pointed to the fact no
protesters were killed.
It's true that although furious police officers beat up students, none were
killed, a laudable development in the history of Indonesian policing.
Hundreds of students remain in hiding in the jungles, hunted by the police.
"We are the children of the jungle, so we feel safe in the jungle," Kayep
West Papua police spokesman Kartono Wangsa Disastra says it's certain the
university students took part in the violence, along with others, and he
sees the work of Papua's best-known separatists, the Free Papua
Organisation, or OPM, behind the scenes. The fear of rebels has fuelled an
increased deployment of troops, yet the activists are scattered, poorly
armed and in trouble.
While OPM is down to a few hundred members by all accounts, there are many
other movements spreading and shifting shape under the rebel umbrella.
Edison Waromi, law and politics director of the Papuan National Authority,
declines to say whether his group organised the protest, but he is happy to
take credit for the asylum-seekers' victory. He says he appointed activist
Herman Wanggai as the leader of the group on the voyage intended to draw
international attention to West Papua's plight.
The Indonesian navy is in the process of boosting and enlarging its bases on
the south coast of Papua, in tandem with an increased deployment of security
forces across the province.
"They fled because the situation was not safe and they were threatened,"
Waromi says. "We know there are international conventions that guarantee the
rights of asylum-seekers. We hope this will put up a portrait of Papua
during the last 40 years, a portrait of injustice in Papua. In this climate,
Jakarta must be sensitive to the fact that Papua's problems have already
become an international issue." He says he hopes an independent nation of
Papua will be part of the South Pacific group rather than Southeast Asia.
This kind of talk drives a spike of fury deep into Indonesian hearts, where
the loss of the tiny half-island of East Timor still rankles. Independence
is not an option, not least because Papua's vast wealth is essential to
Indonesia's bleeding budget. Freeport is the nation's biggest taxpayer,
contributing $US1.1billion ($1.55 billion) in taxes and royalties to
Indonesia last year; only a tiny proportion found its way back to Papua.
Many ordinary Indonesians still blame Australia and the UN for the loss of
East Timor. Now Australia has offered West Papuans asylum, and mounting
resentment in Jakarta makes it clear this is likely to be the biggest blight
on Australian-Indonesian relations since East Timor.
As with the East Timorese, Papuans consider themselves different from other
Indonesians. Largely Christian and Melanesian, they resent the racist
attitudes of mostly Muslim Indonesians and they see the Act of Free Choice
used to legitimate Indonesia's absorption of their homeland as a monstrous
deception. Yet all this could be dealt with if the economy worked and
Indonesia provided reasonable measures of autonomy.
Adriana Elizabeth, Papua research co-ordinator at the Indonesian Institute
of Sciences, says West Papuans endure human rights abuses and economic
deprivation. "Of course there are groups fighting for independence, but they
are only small," she says, adding that most West Papuans are simply trying
to get by, and the hardships of their lives have fuelled their support for
the rebels and their distrust of Jakarta.
"The problem is development. If the problems of the economy were dealt with,
I don't think there would be a dilemma for them. If not, the asylum-seekers
won't stop. The Government should think clearly how to quickly foster
development and build human rights in Papua."
Additional reporting: Emmy Zumaidar