PNG makes headway on West Papua refugee registry
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is assisting Papua New Guinea to register all West Papuan refugees in the country.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is providing technical assistance to Papua New Guinea to register all West Papuan refugees in the country.
It's estimated there are around ten thousand West Papuans in PNG seeking refuge, many of whom have been in the country since a mass exodus from Indonesia in 1984.
A UNHCR associate legal officer, Mike Clayton, told Johnny Blades previous attempts to register the West Papuan population were not comprehensive.
MIKE CLAYTON: The government of PNG in late 2014 started an initiative which the UNHCR thinks is a really impressive initiative to register and to regularise the status of all of the West Papuan refugees in PNG. It really started its implementation in the latter half of last year and that will give us a much better idea of exactly who is there, how long they've been there and hopefully provide a pathway for some of the people who have been refugees for decades to finally obtain proper, lasting legal status, the protections, the rights and obligations that go along with citizenship of a host country and finally cease to be refugees. So from our point of view, that's going to be a fantastic outcome, if we can see a resolution to a protracted refugee situation in this region, particularly at a time when solutions for refugees are so few and far between.
JOHNNY BLADES: The registration process, that will lead into determination of refugee status for those people?
MC: We're going to locate the refugee communities. We know where we think the majority of West Papuan refugees are living around the country. But we want to make contact with all of the individuals. we're not doing it on the basis of general profiles. We are going to each of the communities where the people are living and meeting face to face, and registering face-to-face every individual. And that will confirm the identity and nationality origin of all the refugees. And that will then allow the government authorities not only to update effectively their census records of who is present in the country but it will also allow the authorities to confirm the refugee status of each person and each family, case by case. And of course, once we know the legal status of the individuals, then we can proceed with applications for citizenship for those who are eligible. So it'sd quite a lengthy and resource-intensive process, going to meet with all of the people face to face. I think it's possible that we could be done by the end of this year or the first half of next year. I think there's good process being made.
JB: And the information about the West Papuans who are in PNG and where they are, who they are, does that get passed on to the Indonesian authorities at all?
MC: No. One of the core principles about refugee protection is firstly that it's a strictly apolitical exercise; refugee protection is never a political statement, and so it shouldn't
impact on relations between countries at the state level. But also there's a need to make sure the individuals are protected, and part of that is respecting their confidentiality. So the information will be known to the authorities of the host state and to some extent by the UNHCR but that's as far as it goes.
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