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Groups Urge Australia to Adopt Humane Refugee Policies Toward Papuans

Oppose Proposed Changes to Migration Law

For Immediate Release

Contact: John M. Miller (718) 596-7668; (917) 690-4391 (cell)

May 11 - In a letter to Prime Minister John Howard, 47 organizations based in eight countries today urged the Australian government “to uphold its obligations under the Refugee Convention, to recognize the plight of Papuans suffering brutalization on your doorstep, and to adopt humane refugee policies in keeping with the widely recognized principles of the Australian people.” The organizations include human rights and refugee advocates, as well as religious and peace groups.

The wide range of international organizations are protesting the Australian government's plan to amend its law to exclude refugees arriving by boat without visas from a fair consideration of their claim. The refugees would be held in conditions described by observers as “inhumane.”

The proposed change comes in response to the granting of protection visas to 42 West Papuans who landed by boat on the Australian mainland last January. The move angered Indonesia, which reacted by recalling its ambassador and demanding the return of the Papuans. The Australian parliament is expected to debate the changes soon.

Among the signers are Human Rights Watch; Institute on Religion and Public Policy; International Immigrants Foundation; Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights; TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign; Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International; Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition; Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Great Lakes Rural Australians for Refugees; and Pax Christi USA.

"The Australian government seems more interested in appeasing Indonesia, than living up to its obligations under international law," said John M. Miller of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN), which coordinated the letter, a  copy of which is below. A list of signers can be found below.


Prime Minister John Howard
c/o Embassy of Australia
1601 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036-2273
Via facsimile: 202-797-3168

Dear Prime Minister Howard,

We, the undersigned organizations, protest in the strongest terms possible your government's announced plan to seek national legislation extending the "Pacific Solution" to anyone intercepted attempting to enter Australia by boat without a visa. In 2001, the Pacific Solution excised outlying islands from Australia’s migration zone, thus denying refugees arriving on those islands access to just proceedings under Australian law. Your government’s proposal would extend the Pacific Solution to mainland Australia, thus excluding all refugees arriving by boat without visas from fair consideration under Australian migration law. This discriminatory proposal is especially aimed at denying refuge to those fleeing persecution in West Papua and seeking asylum in Australia.

As described by officials of your government, many of the plan's components we believe are in violation of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party. Taken as a whole, the plan constitutes an affront to the principles enshrined in that document. As described by your government, the first tier of ‘defense’ against fleeing refugees would be military patrols by Australian forces acting in collaboration with the very source of their persecution -- the Indonesian military.

Refugees who successfully navigate the perilous seas and joint military patrols to land on Australian soil will be removed to off-shore detention centers on Nauru, Manus Island, or Australia’s Christmas Island. Conditions of detention at these facilities have been described by observers as "inhumane" and even life-threatening, yet under the proposed plan, even children and the infirm would not be spared detention under these bleak conditions. Instead, anyone seeking asylum would remain in detention, with limited access to legal representation, for the duration of his or her asylum proceedings. Without the protection of Australian migration law, which does not apply in off-shore locations, asylum seekers would have no opportunity to appeal asylum decisions, and even those found to be legitimate refugees would have to remain off-shore until resettlement to a third country could be arranged.

The Refugee Convention calls on parties not to penalize refugees directly fleeing persecution and seeking asylum. UNHCR officials have publicly expressed concern that the "Pacific Solution" would constitute such a penalty.

The recent decision of Australian immigration officials to grant asylum to 42 Papuan refugees after a harrowing five-day open sea voyage demonstrates that persecution is a reality in West Papua. Threats against Papuans by Indonesian military and other security officials are not hypothetical.

We call upon your government to uphold its obligations under the Refugee Convention, to recognize the plight of Papuans suffering brutalization on your doorstep, and to adopt humane refugee policies in keeping with the widely recognized principles of the Australian people. 


Dorothy Pagosa, SSJ-TOSF, co-coordinator
8th Day Center for Justice

David T. Ives Executive
Director, Albert Schweitzer Institute
Adjunct Professor of International Business, Philosophy, and Latin American Studies, Quinnipiac University

Mary Whittlinger, Treasurer
America Ecumenical Moluccan Church (GOMA)

Kani Xulam, Director
American Kurdish Information Network

Pamela Merchant, Executive Director
The Center for Justice & Accountability

Clare Nolan, NGO representative
Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
Sisters of the Good Shepherd

John Chamberlin, National Coordinator
East Timor Religious Outreach

Leslie E. Kretzu, Co-Founder/Director
Educating for Justice, Inc.

Medea Benjamin, Cofounder
Global Exchange

Alan Muller, Executive Director
Green Delaware

Zifora Kissya, Secretary
The House of Glory Church

Bill Frelick, Refugee Policy Director
Human Rights Watch

John Oei, Founder
Indonesian, Chinese and American Network

Joseph K. Grieboski President,
Institute on Religion and Public Policy
Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom

Rosa Perla Resnick, Board of Directors
International Immigrants Foundation

Eileen B. Weiss & Sharon Silber, Co-Founders
Jews Against Genocide

Marie Lucey, OSF, LCWR Associate Director for Social Mission
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

(Rev.) Jim Kofski, M.M., Asia/Pacific and Middle East Issues
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Washington, D.C.

Shelagh Foreman, Program Director
Massachusetts Peace Action

Diana Bohn, Co-Coordinator
Nicaragua Center for Community Action

Bill Towe, Coordinator
North Carolina Peace Action

David A. Robinson, Executive Director
Pax Christi USA

Shulamith Koenig,
PDHRE People's Movement for Human Rights Learning

Todd Howland, Director
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Dan C. Winters, Spokescouncil
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

Frank Zucker
Seattle International Human Rights Coalition

Ann Oestreich IHM, Congregation Justice Coordinator
Sisters of the Holy Cross Congregation Justice Committee, Notre Dame, Indiana

Sister Pam Chiesa, PBVM, President
Sisters of the Presentation (San Francisco)

Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International

Sr. Sheila Kinsey, OSF, Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Coordinator
Wheaton Franciscans, Wheaton, Illinois

Sarah Standefer, Asia Pacific Committee
Women Against Military Madness

Mary Day Kent, Executive Director
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, United States Section


Chris Simpson, Secretary
fPcN intercultural

Carmel Budiardjo, Director
TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign


Memen Lauzon
Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition

Augusto Miclat, Executive Director
Initiatives for International Dialogue


Maire Leadbeater
Indonesia Human Rights Committee Auckland

Edwina Hughes, Coordinator
Peace Movement Aotearoa


Tarmizi, Executive Director
Aceh People's Forum (APF)


Bruno Kahn
Agir pour Timor


Glenn Raynor, Executive Director
Pacific Peoples' Partnership

Tom Benedetti, Moderator
WestPAN: Canada's West Papua Action Network


Joe Collins, Secretary, AWPA (Sydney)
Australian Coalition of West Papua Support Groups
Great Lakes Rural Australians for Refugees

Rob Wesley-Smith, Spokesperson
Australians for a Free West Papua

Nick Chesterfield, International officer
Free West Papua Campaign Pacifica (Melbourne)

Leon Orbach, President
Meretz Australia


see also Letter to Australia on Papuan Asylum Seekers




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