Papuan boat arrival fuels crisisBy Mark Forbes
April 5, 2006
A NEW boatload of asylum seekers from West Papua is believed to have landed in Australia, deepening the diplomatic crisis with Indonesia.
The family of six reached an uninhabited island in Australian waters on Sunday, The Age has been told.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone last night confirmed the Government had received reports of an Indonesian boat landing in Australia. "These are operational matters and there's no further comment at this time," he said.
It was unclear last night whether the group had been picked up yet by Australian coastal patrols.
Their arrival comes just over two months after 43 Papuans landed off Cape York, setting off Australia's worst row with Indonesia since East Timor's bloody transition to independence.
The granting of protection visas to 42 of the first group has prompted Indonesia to recall its ambassador from Canberra and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to question future co-operation on curbing the flow of illegal migrants to Australia.
The latest boat landing has fuelled the fears of authorities that more Papuans may seek asylum in Australia.
Father Yus Mawengkang, a Catholic priest in the West Papuan town of Merauke, told The Age that the latest group included a union activist, Paulus Samkakai, his wife and four children, including a two-month-old baby.
Two fishermen took the family by speedboat from Merauke, leaving after dark on Thursday. They dropped the family on an island, known locally as Bamboo Island, on Sunday.
The fishermen, who spoke to Father Mawengkang, returned to Merauke on Monday and have gone into hiding.
Father Mawengkang said he was concerned for the family's safety and hoped Australian authorities would pick them up. "They cannot stay there for too long," he said. "They only have some packages of instant noodles and canned fish only to survive for a few days."
Father Mawengkang said Mr Samkakai headed a labour union at a port in Merauke, and had been a thorn in the side of local business and political leaders.
Indonesian intelligence officers are believed to have been visiting houses in Merauke for the past two days seeking information on Mr Samkakai.
It is unclear whether Mr Samkakai was also involved in campaigns for West Papuan independence from Indonesia. The 42 already granted asylum claimed they had been persecuted because of their pro-independence activities.
Organisers of the original voyage had said that up to 600 more Papuans would seek asylum in Australia if the first group's claims were successful.
Security and patrols have been boosted between West Papua and Australia, but locals said it would be relatively easy for a speedboat to avoid detection.
While Dr Yudhoyono has called for calm over the row - which was fuelled by a cartoon in The Australian depicting him as a dog mounting a Papuan - pro-Jakarta student groups have demanded that ties with Australia be cut.
Student activists in Makassar, South Sulawesi, searched hotels for Australian tourists yesterday, demanding that they be evicted.
Management at the large Sahid Hotel agreed to ban Australians. "We agreed in writing that we are prohibited from accepting Australian guests," a staff member said.
A student spokesman said they would continue to search hotels across the city today. "We condemn Australia's action for issuing visa and for publishing such an obscene caricature of the President," he told reporters.
Officials from both nations are trying to organise a meeting between Dr Yudhoyono and Prime Minister John Howard to defuse the row.
Dr Yudhoyono blamed the Howard Government for an "inappropriate, unrealistic and biased" decision on the Papuans. He called for consistency in Australia's approach to refugees and for the Government to demonstrate its opposition to West Papuan independence in its approach to asylum seekers.
"Indonesia will not tolerate any elements in any country, including Australia, which clearly give support to separatist movements in Papua," he said.
The crisis was discussed in a meeting yesterday between Mr Howard and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.
Mr Howard told the Dutch PM he was confident the granting of protection visas would not "permanently contaminate or damage" the relationship.
"I think we will sail through fairly effectively and with relative speed the current difficulty we have," Mr Howard said.
Asked if he was trying to facilitate talks after Dr Yudhoyono spoke of the need for intense dialogue, Mr Howard said: "You can rest assured that I took careful note of that comment".
Hugh White, a former senior defence official who is now professor of strategic studies at Australian National University, said Mr Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer should be more active in putting the case as to why West Papua should remain part of Indonesia.
"I think the principal concern that the Indonesians have is that John Howard and Alexander Downer and others are not actively engaging in the debate in Australia about whether or not Papua should be independent," he said.
"Papua is seen by Indonesia as an absolutely vital interest which it would defend militarily if necessary".
- With MICHELLE GRATTAN
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