Seven West Papuans who requested asylum when they arrived in the Torres Strait have been denied the chance to make a protection application in Australia. Two days after arriving, on 4 October, they were spirited overnight to Port Moresby.

Scott Morrison says a 2003 MoU with PNG allows the government to return the asylum seekers. But the MoU only permits returns of asylum seekers if they have been in PNG for seven days or more. The West Papuans had only been in PNG three days and two nights as they fled from the Indonesian controlled province. Morrison now claims that concessions negotiated with PNG allowed him to ignore the seven day restriction.

Under the MoU, PNG is required to assess the protection claims of anyone returned. The PNG government has given the asylum seekers until 10 October to apply for protection or be treated as illegal immigrants.

Regardless, there is no doubt that Australia has violated the human rights of the West Papuans and returned them to danger. PNG is unable and unwilling to properly assess asylum seekers’ claims; something that is also an issue for the asylum seekers that Australia has dumped on Manus Island. And PNG has no history of providing a free and secure life for West Papuans. It has recently signed an extradition treaty with Indonesia. Even West Papuans born in PNG are not considered citizens.

Not for the first time, an Australian government is complicit in the repression of West Papuans. Abbott’s contempt for their rights was confirmed four days later when three West Papuan activists scaled the walls of the Australian embassy in Bali during the APEC forum. They had a letter calling on the Australian government to request the release of at least 55 West Papuan political prisoners from Indonesian jails including Filep Karma, jailed for 15 years for raising the West Papuan flag in 2004. The Australian consulate threatened to call the Indonesian police.

Abbott later reiterated his support for the territorial integrity of Indonesia and dismissed the protest as “grandstanding”.

By Ian Rintoul


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