19 Jan 2006

Australia doesn't rule out processing Papuan asylum seekers offshore

4:18 pm on 19 January 2006

Australia's Department for Immigration says it cannot say whether 43 asylum seekers from Papua will be taken to offshore detention centres for processing.

Australian Immigration officials are holding the asylum seekers who fled the Indonesian province of Papua by boat six days ago and arrived at a beach at Cape York in Queensland yesterday.

The Minister for Immigration, Amanda Vanstone, says everyone in the group, which includes seven minors, is co-operating with officials.

Senator Vanstone said government officials are considering accommodation and logistical options for the group.

In recent years, Australia has sent asylum seekers to offshore detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Meanwhile, Maire Leadbetter of the New Zealand branch of the Indonesia Human Rights Committee says the asylum seekers are closely linked to the independence movement in Papua.

She says Australia needs to consider that the Papuans are at high risk given their province is in a virtual state of undeclared war.

"They come from the Highlands in West Papua, it's my understanding, and that's an area that's virtually been under military control and operations on an ongoing basis since the middle of 2004 in particular so they've probably been through the most terrible time. Even just in the last few days, there have been arrests under very strange circumstances of leading West Papuans."

Maire Leadbetter