Australia admits to deporting Papuans
The Age (Melbourne)
September 27, 2007 – 12:30PM
Australia broke international law and endangered the lives of five Papuan asylum seekers by secretly sending the men back to Papua New Guinea, refugee advocates say.
In a move critics allege was designed to appease Indonesia, the federal government admitted deporting the five Papuans, who sailed from PNG to reach Saibai Island, in Australia's Torres Strait territory, on August 21.
The men were unable to claim asylum in Australia because the Howard government has excised Saibai Island from the country's migration zone.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the men were transferred from Saibai Island to a customs facility on Horn Island on August 24, from where two were flown to Cairns Hospital for medical treatment.
All were returned to a PNG refugee camp on September 18.
“There's no reason for them not to be sent back,” Mr Andrews' spokeswoman said.
“They raised some protection issues, but because they arrived at an excised offshore island they couldn't make a claim, so we've returned them to PNG where they can.”
It would be up to the PNG government to decide what to do with the men if they were found to be refugees.
The Australian government was confident the men were not in danger in PNG, Mr Andrews' spokeswoman said.
There have been reports of Indonesian forces using violence against Papuan independence activists since Indonesia seized control of the province in the early 1960s.
Many Papuans have fled the violence into neighbouring PNG.
Rights group A Just Australia said it was unacceptable for Australia to breach its legal obligations to people in need of protection, “particularly as it is not for border security but simply to appease a foreign government”.
“Without doubt, the removal of these asylum seekers is a breach of international law, and puts Australia at the bottom of the class in human rights terms,” the group's national coordinator Kate Gauthier said.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre coordinator Pamela Curr said there had been recent moves in Port Moresby to evict Papuan refugees from their settlements on the edge of the PNG capital.
“What choices are open to them? Go back to West Papua and face the brutal Indonesian military … (or) try to negotiate somewhere else to stay in PNG?” she said.
“If this cannot be achieved – set off in search of another country of safety.”
Refugee groups queried whether returning the men to PNG was designed to prevent a repeat of last year's spat between Canberra and Jakarta stemming from Australia's decision to accept 43 Papuan asylum seekers as refugees.
Mr Andrews' spokeswoman dismissed the idea as “predictable conspiracy rubbish”.
Greens senator Kerry Nettle said the Papuans had sought refuge in Australia because they clearly did not feel adequately protected in PNG.
Labor maintained its cautious approach to immigration issues ahead of the election.
Asked to comment on the case, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said: “I have not seen that report. I'd like to be fully briefed on it before making any substantive comments.”