Skip to main content


Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention


Click here to return

to the Submission Index

Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

Marist Refugee Office

"There is

no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's native land"

Euripides 431BC

"Like sands

shifted by restless winds, refugees spill today across the globe. They

constitute a Fourth World, one whose inhabitants have no representation

and over which they have no control."

William Shawcross

"The Quality of Mercy"

"The fact

that the Church carries our extensive relief efforts on behalf of refugees,

especially in recent years, should not be a source of surprise to anyone.

Indeed this is an integral part of the Church's mission in the world."

Pope John Paul II

- Lenten message 1990


Australia's so-called

Pacific Solution is not "pacific" in the sense of "peaceful"

nor is it a just or long-term solution in response to the arrival of asylum

seekers into the northern waters of Australia.

The Australian government

has, opportunistically and in keeping with its growing reputation in the

South Pacific as a "bully boy", made use of the parlous situation

in Nauru and its peoples and the corruption, complex situation and needs

of PNG to reduce the "burden" of this so-called "problem".

It has done this at great cost to its reputation as a country of compassion

and a fair go. It has flaunted the UN Convention on Refugees, one to which

it is a signatory. It is also spending enormous amounts of money for relatively

few people who could easily be accommodated here in Australia and who

could, as so many others who came here in the past have, add so much to

our vitality and future. The real financial burden to the taxpayer of

Australia may never be known.

Sadly it seems there

is still a majority - just how big is uncertain - of Australians who support

mandatory detention of asylum seekers arriving here without documentation.

They appear to be unconcerned about the squalid financial inducements

offered to the Republic of Nauru and the Government of PNG. Also, they

seem unconcerned about the implications for all Australian citizens, not

just asylum seekers, of the precipitous rush to introduce laws retroactively,

which are both harsh and punitive in regard to the asylum seekers, and

to put in place exclusion zones. The recent outburst by Phillip Ruddock

against the judiciary suggests that the citizens of Australia should be

concerned. One letter to the editor stated:

"The rule

of law requires that government should be in accordance with fixed rules

which are intelligible, stable, applied equally and transparently by

unbiased, disinterested decision makers, supervised by an independent


Hastily implemented

legislation that reactively overturns court decisions to prevent one

class of people having access to judicial review is utterly inimical

to the rule of law.

When the rule

of law is thrown out the window, society is left with the type of

anarchy that has been seen in the detention centre riots."

Concerned for the

welfare of these detainees held in the detention camps in Nauru and Manus,

especially in regard to their legal rights, their right to spiritual and

pastoral ministry and their right for proper and adequate care, Caritas

Australia and JRS endeavoured to gain access to the centres by way of

official requests to the appropriate government agencies. All such requests

were refused. Although a very detailed report was made available by John

Pace, who visited Nauru on behalf of Amnesty International, it was agreed

that, if possible, an unofficial visit should be made to gather further

information on the conditions of the detainees and to see what, if anything,

could be done to address these concerns.

In consultation with

the writer of this report representing the Marist Fathers Refugee Office,

Caritas Australia agreed to sponsor an unofficial attempt to visit both

camps on behalf of Caritas Australia and JRS.

At the same time

Caritas Australia requested that a consultation be carried out with representatives

of the Catholic Church and associated agencies and NGOs in the Pacific

region to determine their views in regard to the Pacific Solution.

In response to the

Terms of Reference in regard to this assessment and consultation, two

Draft Interim Reports were written, as it were on the move, because of

the urgency to provide information and advice to Caritas as it prepared

a submission to the Australian Parliamentary Inquiry on the Pacific Solution.

This report will

recapitulate some of the more salient issues mentioned in those reports

and include information regarding the subsequent visits to the detention

camp on Manus Island and refugee camps in Vanimo and near Kiunga on the

Fly River.

Also, although not

specifically requested, I will include a report on the situation in the

Solomon Islands. The civil strife and serious breakdown of law and order

in the Solomons has resulted in major dislocation and displacement of


Visit to Nauru March 18 -


The Republic of Nauru

is a small island in the Western Pacific with a population of about 7,000

who live on the narrow-green coastal perimeter occupying about one-third

of the island. The rest of the island is a desolate moonscape ? a legacy

of the years of phosphate mining.

Nauru has become

an economic and social basket case beset with critical and perhaps intractable

problems. Among these are:

  • Few, if any, sustainable


  • High unemployment,

    especially youth unemployment;

  • High incidence

    of poor health among the people ? Nauran's have the second-highest incidence

    of diabetes in the world;

  • Failed investments

    on monies earned from the now depleted stocks of phosphate;

  • Decaying social

    services and infrastructures.

AusAid described

Nauru to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on 20 February 2002 in these



is in an increasingly untenable economic situation which presents a

real threat to the availability of basic health, education, power and

water supplies for the population of Nauru. Australian development assistance

to Nauru is directly targeted at these key areas."

The Australian Government,

for its own questionable motives, made an offer the Nauran Government

was unable or unwilling to refuse. According to the AusAid Rep. on the



is picking up the tab for most of the above essential services."

The contents of the

agreement between the governments of Australia and Nauru in regard to

the setting up of the detention camp on the island remain secret. What

is clear is the difficulty in gaining access, firstly to the island and

then to the camp once on the island. I was given a transit visa, but required

a guarantee of accommodation before landing.

Accessing the camp

is not as daunting as it is here in the detention camps of Australia.

There is only a single perimeter fence and a boom gate guards the entrance.

No searches are made, but the guard at the entrance will challenge all

those attempting to enter. Permission to visit can be granted only by

the IOM Head of Mission, Cy Winter, or his deputy, Luiz Vieria. (As I

write this report, an Australian woman is attempting to gain access to

the camp by responding to an invitation from one of the detainees to visit

him. Her success or otherwise should be known in a few days.)

Because I had received

from an NGO in the States called Counterpart International, who in turn

had received a direct request from IOM Geneva for a medical back-up team

for the Pacific detention camps, I was given permission by Cy Winter to

enter both camps to look at the medical facilities and meet with the current

medical team caring for the needs of the detainees. One of the interpreters,

an Afghan-Australian, who came to Australia in 1984 at the time of the

Russian invasion of Afghanistan, was appointed by Cy Winter to be my guide

and interpreter.

I spent about 2½

hours in, what is known as, the "Top Side Camp", which at the

time of my visit had a population of about 800 Afghans. Two weeks prior

to my visit the two camps on the island were reorganised according to

nationality. The majority, being Afghans, went to the larger camp, the

"Top Side Camp", and the others, made up of Iraqis, Iranians

and Sri Lankans, in total about 350, were housed in what is known as the

"State House Camp". This move was, in hindsight, a preparation

for the announcement of the determination of their cases due out two weeks

after I had been there. We now know that of the 800 Afghans, only seven

were deemed to be refugees according to the UN Convention. More of that


I spent most of my

time talking with groups and individuals, either in their dongas or as

we walked around looking at the camp facilities. Most of the time I did

not need the services of my interpreter because of the fluency in English

of many of the detainees. (There is an English conversation program as

part of the education program in the camp and 22 of the English teachers

are detainees).

But 2½ hours

in the Top Side Camp and about an hour in the State House Camp was not

really sufficient time to do an in-depth assessment. However, from my

past experience of working with refugees, I am able to offer credible

interpretations of what I witnessed and the stories I heard.

Using the issues

to be explored as listed in the Terms of Reference, I make the following


1. Level and quality

of legal and other support services that currently exist for detainees

There was no evidence

that any of the detainees had, at any time, been given access to independent

legal advice before or after the initial interview, which is all that

they had received up until the time of my visit. This was confirmed by

the detainees themselves.

(Before leaving for

Nauru, an Australian lawyer prepared a comprehensive document outlining

the basic legal rights of asylum seekers and refugees in regard to Australian

law and also in regard to the UN Convention on Refugees. I was able to

pass a copy of this document to one of the leaders of the camp, together

with a form that could be filled in by any detainee requesting legal advice

from Jeremy Moore and Associates ? the solicitors who have been working

in the Woomera Detention Camp. Jeremy's office is based in Adelaide. Since

returning to Australia I have received one such document duly signed and

dated, which I have passed on to Jeremy for action.)

2. Identification

of the needs of detainees

When the detainees

first arrived in Nauru, the living conditions were appalling. As recent

as two months before my visit, raw sewerage lay in pools in parts of the

camp. However, to the credit of IOM, significant improvements in the living

conditions had been made, including the installation of two state-of-the-art

sewerage systems, new housing accommodation for the people in Top Side

Camp and demountables for the education programs built. Nevertheless the

camp is a camp, a barren, dusty compound overlooking an even more desolate

and barren landscape, the so-called pinnacles left behind after the extraction

of super phosphate.

Medical care is certainly

adequate, with a medical team of five doctors and seven nurses. There

are two clinics in the Top Side Camp, one for ordinary medical needs and

the other for women's needs. Serious cases are taken to the local hospital

and, when necessary, to Australia for treatment.

Both camps boast

excellent kitchen facilities that provide top-class meals three times

a day. Key staff are mostly from Australia with support staff recruited

from among the detainees. If anything, I had a sense that over provision

of food may have been an issue.

Clothing appears

to be adequate to the extent that traditional clothing is worn by both

men and women. However, because of the critical shortage of water, washing

these clothes is a major daily task. At the time of my visit the flush

toilets were without water, a cause of serious concern to the detainees.

(Obviously the planning of the camp, especially the toilets, was done

by Australians without consultation. So instead of installing the more

practicable, easily cleanable and sturdy squat toilets, the pedestal type

were installed. In one block they had placed wooden planks on top of the

toilets with appropriate cutouts so that the pedestals could be used in

squat style!)

3. Identification

of other church agencies & NGOs could assist

(i) In Nauru

All attempts to make

contact with an NGO representative nominated by another NGO Rep from Nauru

proved futile. There was no evidence that any NGO in Nauru is, in any

way, engaged directly with the detainees.

With regard to the

church, the resident parish priest, an elderly expatriate German with

experience in PNG and who is not well, has permission to visit the camps

and provides Mass for the few Christians there. How frequently I am not

sure. The three Sisters, all of whom are OLSH from Kiribati, help him

in this ministry, but again it is very minimal and there is no planned

program. In both camps temporary Mosques have been erected and presumable

leaders from among the Muslim community are chosen to lead them in prayer.

(ii) Outside Nauru

Given the isolation

of Nauru and the difficulty of access, long-term spiritual counselling

and pastoral ministries in the camps would be difficult to sustain. Identifying

what kind of ministry and counselling is needed would call for a small

team to spend time in the camps making the assessment.

4. The legal situation

for detainees under Nauru

There is a strong

suggestion that in accepting these detainees in Nauru the government of

Nauru has breached its own Constitution and Bill of Rights. This needs

to be tested in a court of law either in Nauru or internationally. I have

my doubts as to whether any local lawyer will take up their case.

5. Perceptions

of the Impact of the Detainees on Nauru and its Peoples

There is very little

social interaction between the detainees and the people of Nauru and the

size of the camps do not radically impact on the living space of the people,

so social impact is minimal, at least for the moment. Each afternoon the

Deputy Head of Mission takes about 30 detainees down to the local enclosed

harbour for swimming. Many of the locals gather, mostly to look, but some

do join them in the water. Volley ball games have been arranged between

the detainees and the Nauruans, most of which are won by the visitors.

With the installation

of the state-of-the-art sewerage systems, the environmental damage is

also minimised. However, water remains the critical problem for all who

live on the island. There is the suggestion that Australia will install

a new desalination plant and make it large enough, not just for the detainees,

but for the population of Nauru.

Economically the

people of Nauru stand to benefit. Already the Australian Government, through

AusAid, is paying for most of the public services such as power and water.

It would seem some Nauruans are personally benefiting from the largess

of the Australian Government per kind favour of the Australian taxpayer.

There appears to

be some resentment by the locals for the good treatment of the detainees

as they see it. On balance, my sense is that the people of Nauru, because

of the many spin-offs coming from the presence of the detainees on their

small island, they are more than happy for them to stay, even though officially

the government has requested Australia to remove them by the end of May.

Given their economic desperation this deadline is not likely to be insisted


Of great importance

is the psychological wellbeing of the detainees. The uncertainty about

their future, especially in light of the recent government financial inducements

to the Afghans to return home and the unwillingness of many to do so,

will place great stress on the detainees, irrespective of whatever improvements

are made to their living conditions.

The detainees in

Nauru are well aware of what has taken place in Woomera, Port Headland

and Curtin by way of demonstrations, attempted and successful suicides

and self-mutilation. Desperate people made even more desperate by factors

beyond their control will take desperate action. One only has to speculate

what could happen with 400 very resourceful male Afghans breaking out

of the low-security camp on the island of Nauru.

Visit to Manus Island, PNG

April 23-26

Before visiting Manus

and as part of the Pacific Consultation, I visited Kavieng where I met

with Bishop Ambrose, the author of the very strongly worded statement

entitled "Gift from Australia" in which he condemns Australia's

so-called Pacific Solution. He points out that PNG has more than enough

of its own problems, including the West Papuan Refugees along the border.

It is interesting to note that during the time of my visit to PNG, over

100 children died of measles mainly because of the lack of vaccines. Inadequate

medical supplies throughout the country because of lack of funds is just

one of the major problems facing PNG.

The Bishop has been

criticised by some of the local people because of his strong stand. They

feel that the financial benefits for the local people, given the fact

that Manus is one of the poorest provinces in PNG, justify the co-operation

of the PNG Government with the Australian Government in its Pacific Solution.

The detention camp

is located in the Naval Base at Lombrum on the Island of Manus. The base

is in the parish of Papitalai of which Fr Justin Aminio is parish priest.

Two rather lengthy discussions with Fr Justin suggest that he, like his

Bishop, is opposed to the forced detention of people that have committed

no crime. He has spoken out strongly against the continuation of this

policy. He, like his Bishop, has been criticised and indeed warned. He

was also blamed for taking Evan Williams, from the television program

Foreign Correspondent, onto the base and was, at the time of my visit,

expecting a letter forbidding him henceforth access to the base where

he says Mass for the Naval Personnel who are Catholics. He told me he

would vigorously challenge this exclusion. In fact, it was Fr Morris from

the parish of Lorengau who accompanied Evan onto the base.

No-one, not even

the chaplain to the base, is allowed to go inside the detention camp,

which is set up like an isolation camp on the base itself.

I attempted to go

to the base by car along the only road that leads to it. However, I was

stopped and turned back at the roadblock, which is about a kilometre short

of the base and manned by the PNG Defence Force. This was set up after

the visit by Evan Williams and the screening of his critical television

program on Foreign Correspondent. The only other access to the base, which

occupies a peninsula, is by sea.

I did manage to speak

to the IOM Head of Mission on two occasions. However, my offer of medical

assistance that had been so successful in Nauru failed in Manus. A third

attempt to make an appointment to meet him was rebuffed through his secretary

on the score that he was too busy.

Through the conversations

I had with [names deleted], I learned that in return for their co-operation,

the PNG Government is receiving a full upgrading of The Base. The hospital,

officers' mess, kitchen facility and houses for Naval Personnel families

have all been upgraded and improved. The hospital is open to not only

naval personnel, but to the local people, which is significant given the

fact that the hospital in the capital, Lorengau, which is 45 minutes by

car, is without water. A recent enquiry came to the conclusion that the

hospital should be closed until such time as the water becomes available.

The people living

in the area of the base and on the base are more than happy with their

windfall. It is providing employment for many as guards, cooks, cleaners

and office workers. They are jealously guarding their bonanza.

Concern has been

expressed by some politicians, and indeed a well-known lawyer is preparing

a case against the government, for like Nauru, it seems that this detention

of people who have committed no crime is against the nations Bill of Rights.

Also it is possibly against the criminal code, which states that anyone

who is arrested for an alleged crime cannot be held for more than six

months unless the person is charged. These detainees have been there more

than seven months now.

Although I am uncertain,

given the isolation of the camp and the cavalier manner in which the PNG

Defence Force and the guards at the camp reject any legitimate request

for access, I doubt if any lawyers have been able to give legal advice

to the relatively small number being held in Manus Detention Camp.

As mentioned earlier,

events have somewhat overtaken this report in that a significant number

of those on Manus have been determined to be genuine refugees. However,

no decision has been taken as to which country will receive them, and

Australia has said it will not take all of them, if any.

The denial of access

to the people in the camp, especially for pastoral care by church representatives,

is indeed a denial of a basic human right, one that not even the Japanese

on the Thai/Burma Railway during World War II denied the chaplains. They

were able to minister to the POWs in spite of the brutality that they

experienced. What does this say about the Australian and PNG governments,

as they collude in a solution that is bereft of humanity, compassion and

fundamental human rights.


1. The tyranny

of distance and the isolation of the two detention camps that make up

Australia's Pacific Solution, place a heavy burden and a big obstacle

to any NGO or legal agency concerned for the wellbeing of the people

held in these camps. However, these difficulties should not prevent

ongoing and relentless efforts through collaboration with interested

NGOs, lobbying and public awareness programs to keep before the minds

of the Australian people our government's policies and its effects on

the lives of innocent people.

2. Caritas Australia

might consider sponsoring a gathering of all interested NGOs and other

community groups who are working directly or indirectly for the detainees,

to work out strategies whereby we might, collectively and individually,

work at providing legal assistance, counselling and pastoral care for

the detainees.

3. Because the

length of time the detainees will be held in these camps is uncertain,

consideration should be given to how small teams could be sent on a

rotation basis to help in some basic training to provide skills that

will benefit both the detainee and the society to which they go, whether

that be back home or some third country. The time wasted in our detention

camps is a scandal, especially when there are so many community-based

groups who would willingly volunteer their skills and time

4. According to

its Constitution, IOM is prohibited from participating in involuntary

return. Therefore, a close monitor needs to be put in place as the Australian

Government proceeds in its publicly stated policy of offering financial

inducements for Afghans to return home to what Phillip Ruddock suggests,

after a 12-hour visit to Kabul, is a relatively safe homeland. This

is in spite of the recent news about the ongoing fight against the Taliban,

and that the IOM Sponsored Food Program for Children in Afghanistan

will have to be cut back from 250,000 to 50,000 because of a lack of

funds and difficulty in carrying out the program.

IOM must ensure

that those returning to their country of origin do so voluntarily, not

just by a statement, but must do so by each individual signing a "Declaration

for Voluntary Return", which must be written in both English and

in the signatory's language. One of the clauses in this statement says:


due consideration and entirely of my own free will I wish to return".

Already there are

indications that the Australian Government may use force. IOM must be

held to its Constitution.

5. If permission

is granted to teams going to Nauru for education programs, consideration

should be given to the purchase or rental of suitable accommodation.

6. In the same

way that access can be gained to the detention camps in Australia through

invitations from the detainees themselves, consideration should be given

to personal visits by representatives of NGOs on a regular basis so

as to continue to monitor the reality inside these camps, particularly

in Nauru.

The Pacific Consultation

The first part of

the Pacific Consultation, which included meetings with Bishop Soane Foliaki

of Tonga, Archbishop Mataca, Bishop of Fiji, and Caritas Partners, is

contained in my earlier reports submitted to Caritas Australia. This report

will cover subsequent visits to Bishops in the Solomon Islands, PNG and


The Solomon Islands

Because of the dramatic

and devastating developments that have occurred in recent years in the

Solomon Islands, I will add a separate section to this report offering

an update on the situation there and the impact that the crisis has had

on the people of the Solomons in terms of displacement of people, the

breakdown of law and order and the consequent impact on the economy.

As part of the Pacific

Consultation, I visited with Archbishop Adrian Smith of the Archdiocese

of Honiara and Bishop Gerry Loft, Bishop of the Auki Diocese. Understandably,

both men were preoccupied with the developments in their respective dioceses.

In the case of Archbishop

Adrian, he was confronted by a band of militia who were slaughtering the

church cattle on his property and was threatened with an automatic rifle.

A long "Our Father", and the cool head of the group's leader,

probably saved his life, but not the life of the man who held the gun

to his head. The young man was found dead the following day, probably

from an overdose, but in a land where nothing happens by accident, everything

has a cause, the Bishop's manna or karma or power has been greatly enhanced.

He also went public in the local newspaper condemning the militia and

other groups who were robbing people returning from selling their produce

at the markets. Although he did not mention anyone by name, he received

a phone call from one militia group leader demanding compensation of 10,000

Solomon Island dollars for being publicly maligned.

Gerry Loft, who lives

very simply and with very few modern conveniences, has been robbed 13

times in spite of steel reinforcement rods on every window.

Both Bishops are

very much aware of the Pacific Solution and would willingly support any

initiative taken by the Federation at the time of its meeting in Rabaul

in terms of a collective public statement condemning the policy.

Bishop of Kavieng, Bishop

Ambrose Kaipseni

Bishop of Kavieng's

statement of 13 March 2002, clearly articulates his opposition to the

Pacific Solution.

During our meeting,

he reiterated his position and showed me a letter he received from a woman

in Brisbane who had read his statement and thanked him for it. She expressed

her shame as an Australian for the policy of the Australian Government.

Bishop Cesare Bonivento

of Vanimo and Bishop Gilles Cote both expressed their concern about the

Pacific Solution and would certainly endorse any statement that came from

the Bishops' Federation in regard to this matter. Bishop Cote believed

that it was an essential item of the agenda for this meeting.

On my return to Australia,

I contacted Archbishop Frank Carroll, mentioning my consultation with

the Bishops of the Pacific. He requested a summary of the main points

relating to the two camps that would help inform him and any discussion

that surfaced during the meeting. I faxed him two condensed pages giving

an outline for which he was grateful.

As I write this report,

some days after the conclusion of the meeting in Rabaul, I have no word

of any statement regarding the Pacific Solution made by the Bishops at

the Federation Meeting. However, we wait in hopeful expectation.

The reality of the

Solomon Islands is deeply disturbing. Without wishing to sound alarmist,

the violence that has wracked the islands since 1998, continues to erupt

and threatens the Townsville Peace Agreement signed in late 2000.

It may be helpful

to briefly outline some of the key facts in regard to the breakdown of

law and order in the Solomon Islands. The following is an extract from

a report prepared by Bishop Loft.

" The people

of Guadalcanal were the first to rebel after waiting for more than 20

years for their grievances to be responded to - in much the same way

as in Fiji the people of Guadalcanal felt that they were losing control

over their own lands and resources of the land to politicians and the

people from Malaita who had come to live in Guadalcanal over the past


They began to

drive the Malaitan people back to their island - as many as 30,000 were

forced to return. However the Malaita Eagle Force supported by the Police

Force, most of whom were from Malaita, rowdily retaliated. So you have

the two groups, the Malaita Eagle Force who control Honiara the capital

and a small perimeter around it and the Isutambu Freedom Fighters who

control the rest of Guadalcanal.

As a result

of this conflict the MEF (Malaita Eagle Force) has an agenda that included:

1. 1. the

overthrow of the legal government in which they were successful

2. 2. the

establishment of a Malaitan power enclave in the more productive area

on Guadalcanal adjacent to Honiara and in Honiara itself. In this

they have been largely successful

3. 3. the

control of the police and field force. In this they have been successful

and still control these organizations and

4. 4. the

amassing of personal wealth by the leaders. In this they have been

very successful corrupting the whole compensation process and administration

of government funds given by overseas bodies.

The government

is ineffective and bankrupt. There is no money for physical infrastructure

and payment of civil servants, teachers, nurses and police officers

is irregular and often inadequate.

The return of

high power weapons to the police armoury has been sporadic and ineffective.

There remain approximately 500 automatic, military style weapons at

large in the hands of ex-militants who are intimidating the local populace

and the whole law and order situation is precarious. The deadline for

the return of all weapons is 31 May. No-one really expects this to happen

although the Bishops of Oceania and Australia meeting in Rabaul as I

write have made a special plea for all the guns to be handed in and

for normalcy to return to the Solomons. Most developmental projects

remain closed.

The economy

has collapsed and local rural people have virtually no means of earning

any serious income. Youth are increasingly frustrated and unemployed.

People's attitudes

have changed markedly as they see the corruption and "ripping off"

of millions by elected officials and others in positions of trust. Many

are now trying to get exorbitant amounts for any service or work done

or any use of local materials.

Violence and

house-breaking remain endemic in Honiara and Auki. Three Guadalcanal

terrorists each with their own group remain at large and are terrorising

the people in the rural areas of that island.

Roads are by

and large impassable and travel to and from Honiara is dangerous and

very difficult. Most travel has to be by canoe as there are no planes

flying to Guadalcanal airfields. Even canoe travel can be dangerous

because of shooting and the likelihood of interception.

On Malaita most

roads are impassable for long periods of time and the conditions of

these roads is deteriorating quickly, bridges collapsing, washouts and

slides on the road frequent. On Malaita canoe travel is becoming the

norm rather than the exception for areas previously connected by road.

But this will become increasingly difficult for many because of the

cost of gasoline for the outboard. Many will have to go back to the

old paddle."

For further information

in regard to the grim and disturbing situation in the Solomon Islands,

see Appendix 1 attached - an article by John Roughan.

It was interesting

to learn that people from the West Solomons, ethnically and linguistically

linked to the people of the southern part of Bougainville, were crossing

over to Bougainville and then on to PNG to the extent that it has been

mentioned in parliament. The people of Bougainville are being reminded

of how they were helped during their time of crisis by the people in the

West Solomons and asking for equal consideration now.

West Papua Refugees

The background to

the presence of West Papuans living in camps inside the border of PNG

is well known to the gentle reader. However, for the sake of completeness

I will mention briefly the history of these border crossers, as they are

often referred to.

The so-called New

York Agreement was signed by the Indonesians and the Dutch at the UN Headquarters

on 15 August 1962. This led to what is now known as an utter sham, the

exercise of free choice in 1968 by 1026 so-called representatives of the

total population of West Papua. The then UN Secretary General, Uh Thant,

reported to the General Assembly that:


descent, all the enlarged councils pronounced themselves in favour of

the territory remaining with Indonesia."

This was a blatant

misrepresentation. Since that time the population has almost doubled by

the policy of transmigration from other islands, particularly Java. Also,

since the so-called Act of Free Choice, over 100,000 have died as a result

of Indonesian oppression. That is the official figure. Unofficially some

estimate the figure as high as 800,000. In 1984 over 10,000 West Papuans

fled across the border into PNG and settled along the Fly River. In 1987

they were given the choice by the PNG Government to either return home

or go to another camp to be cared for by UNHCR. Only about 3000 accepted

the offer and went to the camp set up by UNHCR at East Awin. Some returned

home, but most remained without status along the Fly River.

At the time of my

visit to Kiunga there were still about 5000-6000 West Papuans living in

16 camps on the Fly River and on the border. There were about 2700 in

what is still referred to as the "East Awin Camp", but the UNHCR

withdrew from the camp in 2000 once the PNG Government had given those

there permanent residency in PNG with the right to work and travel. Those

living in East Awin do so on land that was provided by the Government,

but which has become very depleted. West Papuans have begun to encroach

on land not included in the original package, causing growing friction

between them and the locals. Also, during the time when UNHCR was responsible

for the refugees, a sense of dependency developed which has been transferred

to the Catholic Church, also causing some friction. The newly-appointed

parish priest, an Indonesian of the De Monfort Congregation, had his house

broken into while I was there and lost about 500 Kina worth of goods.

Bishop Gilles Cote,

the Sisters and lay volunteers are very proactive in providing basic assistance

in the area of medical care and social programs, such as hygiene and health,

together with spiritual and pastoral ministry.

The leaders in the

camp affiliated or members with OPM are committed to the Independence

Movement. My short conversations with them suggest a strong passion to

pursue this, but it seems they lack understanding in regard to the geopolitical

realities that impact on the region and which would no doubt make their

struggle all the more difficult and violent. Their Independence Movement

suffered a terrible blow when their leader, Theys Eluay, was abducted,

tortured and then murdered in November 2001. It seems this was done by

so-called "rogue elements" in the Indonesian Army ? always a

convenient scapegoat group ? the rogue FBI agent, the rogue CIA ? to deflect


The future of these

camps along the Fly River is uncertain, but if they are all similar to

the one that I visited three hours down The Fly, there is a sense of permanency

about them. However Kiunga is the focal point and source of trade. Its

future is dependent upon the Ok Tedi Mine, which I learned has an expected

future of nine years. If the camps last that long, significant problems

could very well develop in terms of social disruption and tension between

the locals and the West Papuans.

In the meantime,

the very proactive Bishop includes all 16 camps in the pastoral planning

of the diocese. His image of the diocese is one of intersecting circles

rather than hierarchical pyramid, with him, like a satellite, circling

and engaging with all.


More recently, a

small number of refugees from West Papua arrived in Vanimo and, on land

provided by local Bishop Cesare Bonivento on the edge of town, have established

a very well-constructed village with extensive gardens, the produce of

which helps bring in income for them. The Bishop does provide some basic

food, such as tinned fish and rice. In their enthusiasm for gardening,

they have encroached on land belonging to the local government. This could

become a cause of friction and already the Bishop has asked them to move

off this land.

Just before I arrived

in Vanimo, the Bishop received word that UNHCR was to come and interview

these West Papuans, which hasn't been done since their arrival two or

three years earlier, to determine their status. The Bishop believes that

those who are determined to be refugees will be sent to East Awin (the

Bishop still thinks that UNHCR is responsible for those living there).

Those who are determined

not to be refugees will be returned home. The Bishop is concerned for

their safety and wants help to set up what he calls an "Umbrella

Program" or a "Collaborative Program" with the church in

West Papua so that the returnees safety can be monitored and assistance

be given to them when they do return.

He has also requested

help from Caritas Australia and/or JRS to provide some legal advice prior

to the interviews by UNHCR to brief the West Papuans on their legal rights.

Just before I arrived,

some disaffected locals burnt down a government office and the local police

had gone on strike because of the failure of the central government to

improve the conditions of the police barracks, which had become almost

uninhabitable. The law and order breakdown, which is evident in Port Moresby

and the High Lands, is indeed spreading.

As Bishop Ambrose

pointed out, PNG has its own problems and needs to address them before

it accepts Australia's problems.


Australians in 10,

15 or even 20 years time, but hopefully sooner, will look back on this

policy of the Pacific Solution with shame and regret. We will recognise

it for what it is a xenophobic fear-ridden reaction, well served by obscene

political opportunism in keeping with the now discredited White Australia


Karen Armstrong,

in her book The Battle For God, writes about suffering and devastation

experienced by the exile and, by extension, the refugee in these words:


is a spiritual as well as a physical dislocation. The world of the exile

is wholly unfamiliar and, therefore, without meaning. A violent uprooting,

which takes away all normal props, breaks up our world, snatches us

forever from places that are saturated in memories crucial to our identity,

and plunges us permanently in an alien environment, can make us feel

that our very existence has been jeopardised. When exile is also associated

with human cruelty, it raises urgent questions about the problem of

evil in a world supposedly created by a just an benevolent God."

Jim Carty sm

Marist Refugee Office

1 Mary Street

Hunters Hill NSW 2110

6 June 2002


Updated 10 October 2002.