6 Oct 2004

PNG official defends Papuan refugee relocation

4:18 pm on 6 October 2004

The Papua New Guinea official in charge of a large relocation of refugees from its side of the border with Indonesia's Papua province says the group had no choice.

A total of 185 refugees were voluntarily relocated from Vanimo in PNG to the remote refugee camp of East Awin last week.

The refugees were part of a larger group of 265 men, women and children from Wamena, in Papua, who had been in coastal Vanimo since late 2000.

Chris Kati, the PNG Department of Provincial Affairs director in charge of the relocation, confirms that the refugees did not want to move to East Awin until shortly before the two-day relocation exercise.

He says most changed their minds when they heard that if they did not leave they could be sent back to Papua or made to relocate to East Awin.

"The Government has only one place for people to be looked after as asylum seekers and refugees, and this only one place is East Awin. So there was no other choice. There was no other places that Government could offer. The offer was only for them for East Awin."

Mr Kati says 80 refugees absconded, and it is not clear yet what the PNG Government will want to do about them.

Mr Kati says the refugees' reluctance to go to East Awin is understandable, but they will have everything they need there.