Australia Deceives The Pacific Again


In 2011 the Australian government was quick to act on live export of cattle to Indonesia — but the Australian public is now witnessing its government sponsoring the live export of human beings to PNG. Kevin Rudd's plan is a cruel deceit.

I grew up as a refugee in a small shelter in Wewak, on the north coast of PNG. To live in a country with high unemployment, while being harassed and intimidated by Indonesia’s Intelligence operations, was truly the survival of the fittest. Despite most New Guineans’ support for their West Papuan relatives’ struggle across the border, the PNG government is easily bought off. They turn a blind eye to these incursions and the human rights abuses across the border, just as they are being bought off by Australia to ignore their own obligations to the Refugee Convention and to human dignity.

For example, in November, 2011, my father, Pastor Abraham Kareni, and uncle Judith Kambuaya, fled from the violence after the Third Papuan People's Congress in West Papua. Upon their arrival in Wewak, they were arrested by the local authorities on a tip from opportunists from Indonesian intelligence. They spent a few months in a prison with local criminals for “tax evasion”.

Earlier in 2011, PNG security forces attacked refugee villages, burning houses to the ground and destroying their gardens. Threats were made to forcefully return refugees to Indonesia, despite many of them being registered with the UNHCR. Thankfully the operation was stymied by members of PNG’s security personnel, who refused to betray their wantoks by working for “Jakarta’s interests”.

Let's not forget that at least 12,000 West Papuan refugees, who have settled in PNG since the 1980s, are still being treated as second-class citizens and border-crossers. Most Papuan refugees have not been recognised by PNG authorities as permanent residents or citizens but instead some have been given “permissive resident” status, even though they are born in PNG. Furthermore, many Papuan refugees in Port Moresby live in limbo with resettlement issues even today.

Rudd's expansion of Manus is a shocking development, but the detention centre has a dark history. Back in 1969 Australian colonial authorities detained two West Papuan leaders, Clement Ronawery and Willem Zonggonau. At the time they were about to board a plane in Port Moresby to New York and alert the world about the outcome of the sham “referendum” that took place in 1969 in West Papua. Instead they were arrested and detained on Manus Island, preventing their story from reaching the outside world.

Forty-four years later, what goes around has come around. In August, the journey of Clement Ronawery and Willem Zonggonau,will be made in reverse, with a group from Australia travelling via PNG to West Papua in order to finally expose the illegality of the Indonesian occupation to the world.

The truth is kept secret from the people. As the great Bob Marley said, “you can fool the people sometimes, but you can not fool all the people all the time”. Despite Australia’s politicians continuing to deceive Australians about the threat of “illegal boat people” thousands are coming out on the streets to protest, challenging this new policy’s legality as well as its humanity.

In PNG the challenge is mounting against the government's complicity with Indonesian and Australian colonial powers. The Freedom Flotilla to West Papua arriving in PNG in August will mobilise the massive grassroots support for human rights across the border. And the peak regional body the Melanesian Spearhead Group is moving towards recognition of West Papua as a member state, placing the demand on PM O’Neill to finally act on the will of his people. Both Australians and Papuans are rising up for the rights of all nations for self-determination, and the rights of all people to live free from persecution.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.