10/24/2022, 13.51
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West Papua refugees: 'All we need is a home and citizenship'

by Reilly Kanamon

That is all the refugees who fled the Indonesian province are asking for. The new generation does not want independence, but recognition from Papua New Guinea that would allow access to healthcare and education. But migration policies change from year to year and only the local Caritas offers concrete support.



Port Moresby (AsiaNews) - "All we want now is a piece of land. to make it our home. It is all we need to rebuild". This is what refugees who have fled West Papua tell the Caritas workers who visit them. A piece of land and "a national identity card. To open a bank account you need an identity card, to travel abroad you need a passport. Most of us have no formal identity and so we are still limited in our access to services such as health and education."

As the workers arrived in the Honola neighbourhood of Port Moresby, mothers and children emerged from their shelters with smiles on their faces. One cannot go outside without encountering families sleeping on the ground, on old refrigerators, inside car wrecks and in any space they can find. When it rains, the whole complex floods.

Most of the refugees have been living in makeshift shacks for more than 30 years after clashes between the Indonesian army and Melanesian nationalists drove the population from West Papua, Indonesia, to Papua New Guinea.

Sonny Karubaba was born and raised in one of these refugee camps. He was one of the lucky few to find a job and at the same time serves as spokesperson and camp coordinator: 'We come from different parts of West Papua, but today we live as one family. We share everything, we have to do it to survive".

The Hohola camp is one of three main camps along with Rainbow and Waigani camps in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

"Most of the children here do not go to school and the promise of a job and a better life to overcome this condition is grim. We rely on the street market to survive," Sonny continued.

The only hope for the refugees is the acquisition of land from which they were evicted in 2016. "We can only hope that things will work out in our favour, otherwise we might be evicted again even from this place that at least for now we consider home. We don't know where we will go next."

Over the years, many human rights organisations have visited the refugees. "They listen to our stories and take pictures of our living conditions, but is there anything you can offer us?" asked Donatius Karuri, one of the oldest refugees. "Caritas supports us with school fees for our children and with training opportunities for our women who can participate in sewing courses. For the rest we have the skills. We just need to be recognised as citizens". 

The West Papuan refugees are no longer asking for independence - today's is a different generation - but for recognition by Port Moresby. According to the Papua New Guinea Immigration and Nationality Authority, the lack of formal status 'has prevented most refugees from achieving their goals'. The slowdown in document processing is also due to population growth due to new births and new arrivals. 

But at the same time policies towards refugees changed when media attention shifted to the detention centre at Manus, one of the islands in Papua New Guinea where migrants seeking entry to Australia were detained. After relocating almost all the refugees elsewhere, Australia left responsibility for the centre to the authorities in Port Moresby last year.

Suddenly having to process a large number of applications, Papua New Guinea abolished the fee to apply for citizenship, which amounted to 10,000 kine (almost 3,000 euros) and which none of the refugees could afford as they were unemployed. Sonny commented that it is 'everyday politics that decides what happens to us next'.

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