By Ronny Kareni
Kevin Rudd’s ironic plan to banish asylum-seekers to PNG is a cruel deceit on its moral obligation as a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. In 2011 the Australian government was quick to act on live export of cattle to Indonesia but the Australian public have witnessed that its government is now sponsoring the live export of human beings to PNG.
I grew up as a refugee in a small shelter in Wewak, north coast of PNG, where it was ‘survival of the fittest’ to live in a country with high unemployment while being harassed and intimidated by Indonesia’s Intelligence operations. Despite most New Guineans’ support for their West Papuan relatives’ struggle across the border, the PNG government is easily bought off to 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 Peoples Congress in West Papua and upon their arrival in Wewak, they were arrested by the local authorities who were tipped-off by opportunists from Indonesian intelligence for ‘tax evasion’ and spent few months in a prison with local criminals.
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”
Lets not forget that at least 12,000 West Papuan refugees who have settled in PNG since the 1980’s are still being treated as a second-class citizen 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.
Though refugees coming from Australia being placed in extended detention on Manus Island is a shocking new development, the precedent of this detention centre goes back to 1969 when 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 with PNG’s Manus Island detention centre being expanded to detain even more people attempting to escape from brutal regimes and bring their stories to the outside world. Meanwhile 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 stated by the great Bob Marley, ‘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’ and joust to outdo each other in the cruel treatment of refugees, thousands are coming out on the streets to protest, challenging this new policies legality as well as humanity. In PNG the challenge is mounting against the governments 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.