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West Papuan Asylum Seekers (hist essay)

Posted on May 27, 2009 at 7:40 PM

Recently, a group of West Papuan asylum seekers were granted visa’s into the Australian. I will be discussing how this has effected the political relationship between Australia and Indonesia. I will also examine the independence of West Papua, as well as the exploitation of human rights associated with this issue. For those who are not familiar with this particular subject, I will give a brief background on the issue in question.

On January 18th, 2006, it was revealed that more than 40 West Papuan asylum seekers had departed by boat for Australian shores. After missing for three days they were located by the Australian Coast watch. Though it was later reported that they landed on Cape York undetected. They were subsequently transferred to the Immigration Reception and Processing Centers on Christmas Island. On February 3rd the Indonesian government made an official request for the asylum seekers to be returned to Indonesia. Australian West Papuan advocacy groups claimed that they would face certain death if forced to return. Indonesian President Suslio Bambang Yudhoyono has assured John Howard that the group would not be prosecuted if they were returned.


An uneasy alliance has long been sustained between the nations of Australia and Indonesia, but in recent years this relationship has been put under heavy diplomatic strain, both socially and politically. The Australian government’s decision to grant refuge to 42 of the 43 West Papuans – despite President Yudhoyono’s formal request to send them home – has stirred up ill tension between the two countries.

In Indonesia, The Jakarta Post has branded the Papuans as “traitors”; and various journalists have even expressed hatred towards Australia, claiming that the granting of Papuan asylum is part of a much grander plot to colonize West Papua for itself; making reference to Australia’s role in the independence of East Timor. Various Indonesian newspapers have even released insulting cartoons directed at the Australian public and government, and Australia has returned the favor.

While Australian’s see it as a fairly straight forward issue, and feel that the granting of asylum is fundamental right given to every human being, many Indonesians see it as a very disrespectful gesture to their democracy and culture. They regret that Australia granted visas to the Papuans so easily, as if they accepted the accusations that genocide is being conducted throughout Indonesian provinces.


The independence of West Papuan has long been debated throughout political circles, and since the recent Papuan asylum seekers the issue has made a furious resurfacing.

Way back in 1969, Indonesia, under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, conducted the widely criticized ‘Act of Free Choice’. The act was imposed in order to determine whether West Papua wanted to become an independent nation, or to remain a province of Indonesia. However, prior to the vote, the Indonesian military rounded up and detained for one month a large group of Papuan tribal leaders. The Papuans were daily threatened with death at gunpoint if the entire group did not vote to continue Indonesian rule. Assembled troops and two Western observers acted as witnesses to the public vote; however, the Western observers left after witnessing only the first two hundred [of 1,054] votes for integration.

With the U.S. embroiled in the Vietnam War and concerns about the potential rise of Communism in Southeast Asia, the U.S. and other Western powers turned a deaf ear to protests over the circumstances surrounding the vote. The process was deemed to have been an ‘Act of Free Choice’ in accordance with the United Nations requirements and Indonesia formally annexed the territory in August. Dissenters mockingly called it the ‘Act of No Choice’.

Indonesia has proven to be very brutal and savage nation when it comes to maintaining order in their many colonies; often favoring extreme violence over autonomy. Despite the civil, national, and international resistance to Indonesian rule over West Papua, Indonesia simply refuses to grant them their freedom. The ‘Morning Star Flag’ (which can be found on the last sheet of that handout) represents a liberated and self-governed West Papua. The Indonesian government, however, have strictly forbidden the use of the new flag and singing of the national anthem; as well as disbanded the New Guinea Council.


Perhaps the most significant aspect the Papuan asylum seekers has brought up is the issue of human rights, which really should be held above all else. Although the Indonesian President Yudhoyono has assured Mr. Howard that the group will not be prosecuted if they are returned, the Papuans themselves offer a different story. The group claims genocide at the hands of the Indonesian Government. In an interview they explained how most of their fathers had been killed by militia, and many of their friends now lived in jail cells as ‘enemies of the state’. They themselves only fled their homes because they knew their very lives were at risk.

Since 1962, consistent reports have surfaced of programs of government suppression and terrorism, including murder, political assassination, imprisonment, torture, and aerial bombardments. Amnesty International has estimated more than 100,000 Papuans have died as a result of government-sponsored violence against West Papua, while others have set the number at more than 200,000.


In my opinion, Australia’s acting as a continual refuge to West Papuan asylum seekers is one of the first steps, and most important steps, in recognizing and acting on the ill-founded ruling Indonesia has over the Papuans, and the ongoing human rights violations occurring against its people. Like in East Timor I believe Australia will play a critical role in granting, not only the safety of Papuans from Indonesian oppression, but also its freedom.

Categories: ESSAYS, History

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