Navy may force Papuan boats back: ministers

By Craig Skehan, Lindsay Murdoch and Mark Forbes
April 6, 2006

THE Federal Government has left open the option of turning back Papuans trying to reach Australia by boat.

Two senior ministers have signalled a tougher approach, including the option of naval interdiction.

This came amid unconfirmed reports that a new group from the Indonesian province was attempting to get to Australia.

Five Indonesian warships have been sent to the waters between Papua and Australia to intercept asylum seekers, but a group of six Papuans trying to flee to Australia have been diverted to Papua New Guinea.

The developments emerged as the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, speaking from Merauke in Papua, warned foreigners against supporting Papuan separatists. The province was a "domestic issue" and outsiders should not meddle in it, he said.

The Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson, said the Government was aware that more Papuans wanted to come.

"I can assure you that is part of our decision-making," Dr Nelson told reporters in Darwin.

"But we are not going to foreshadow to people who may be considering coming illegally to Australia what we are going to do to try to stop them."

Australia intended to increase surveillance and protection of its northern borders.

Dr Nelson was asked specifically whether Papuans could be "pushed back".

"The same laws and the same approach as Australia applies to any other unauthorised arrivals, from any other part of the world, will be, and is applied to Papuans," he said.

The Minister for Customs and Justice, Chris Ellison, said the Government was still trying to ascertain whether in fact there had been "illegal entry into Australia by any West Papuans" during recent days.

"But certainly we're speaking to people concerned and that is an investigation which is ongoing carried out by Customs and Coastwatch," he said.

Senator Ellison said the Papuans would be treated as other boat people had been.

"Any illegal entrant into Australia is of concern to Australia and, of course, West Papuans are no different to anyone else," Senator Ellison said.

The Prime Minister, John Howard, said he would not speculate on whether the recent granting of protection visas to 42 Papuans would encourage more to come. He reiterated that Australia accepted that Papuans were Indonesian citizens.

A fisherman who took the family of six into Australian waters on the weekend spoke to the Herald from near Merauke. He said he ran low on fuel and became disorientated searching for Bamboo Island (Deliverance Island) and took the group to the Papua New Guinea town of Bula.

Now hiding from Indonesian authorities, he said the group's leader, the Papuan labour activist Paulus Samkakai, said they were making a short journey but later demanded to be taken to Australia. It is believed Mr Samkakai still intends to seek asylum in Australia, claiming persecution due to his trade union activities.

"I was confused, so we drove around and around to find out where Australia was," the fisherman said.


Back to