Wednesday, 8 October 2008 5:52 AM

West Papuan Refugees want to Settle in Vanuatu

Refugees from the West Papua who are currently living in Papua New Guinea have expressed that they wish to settle in Vanuatu, instead of PNG.

As reported by PNG's The National, the refugees who were evicted from Eight-Mile, National Capital District, last year, said 'they wanted to leave for a third country despite the reluctance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle them'.

'Leader of the West Papuan displaced refugees Freddy Waromi said there were 148 people from 25 families living under makeshift tents and tarpaulins, with only one water tap and a dug pit toilet' and that the "Vanuatu council of chiefs has indicated to adopt us as Melanesian brothers and sisters, but the only problem is that Vanuatu is not a signatory to the UN refugee charter".

West Papua is under Indonesian rule and many had fled over the border to PNG during the times of unrest.

'According to Mr Waromi, the UNHCR granted them refugee status in 1980 and the PNG Government had also earlier granted them permissive residential status, but now both parties wanted to repatriate the refugees back to West Papua'.

According to the report, 'ABC news reported that the UNHCR would not resettle the West Papuan refugees living in PNG in Vanuatu' and UNHCR regional representative in Canberra, Richard Towle, 'said the West Papuans had been campaigning to the UNHCR to be resettled in Vanuatu but their plea had been rejected'.

He stated that from their point of view, "resettlement is really a last resort for the most deserving on the basis of protection needs" and that they did not think "that this group falls within that category" and that 'the PNG Government would rather see the refugees return home across the border to the Indonesian-governed Papua'.

But Mr. Waromi stated that "UNHCR wanted us to go back to West Papua but the sad fact is that we will be dead when we go back. UNHCR arranged for some of our Melanesian brothers to go back to East Awin in 2001 and none of those who got repatriated are alive today; they are all dead."