End of long wait for Papuans

Editorial

PAPUA New Guinea’s newest group of citizens at East Awin in North Fly will be voting for the first time in their new country this year.
In exercising their new-found right to take part in a fundamental democratic process, the East Awin community members have declared that they will back any candidate running for the North Fly seat who promises to bring infrastructure and economic development to them.
The residents of the East Awin camp were recently accorded full citizenship –giving up their Indonesian nationality.
It has been quite a long wait for our fellow Melanesians who crossed the border in fear of a regime which was cracking down on resistance elements in the Papua province of Indonesia.
Given the workings of government bureaucracy and the country’s international obligations under the pertinent United Nations conventions, the wait has been worth the while.
It must have been a deeply emotional moment for some of the former refugees. Their sense of relief would have been complete and sincere when PNG immigration officials declared them citizens.
The East Awin camp established in 1984 has 690 West Papuans who have now been issued their PNG citizenship certificates by the PNG immigration officers.
So far the PNG immigration officers have issued 1093 citizenship certificates to West Papuans in Western, with 403 issued certificates earlier in Kiunga.
These West Papuans from Indonesia had crossed the PNG-Indonesian border while fleeing political persecution by the Indonesian government. They had fled after the Dutch colonial government handed over Irian Jaya in the early 1960s which became the West Papua province of Indonesia.
West Papuan leader Arnold Umap who spoke on behalf of the recipients thanked PNG for allowing them to become citizens.
Elsewhere in the world, the transition from being aliens fleeing persecution in one’s country of birth, to being accepted as a citizen of another, may be a lot more difficult and even life-threatening.
In the case of the West Papuans at East Awin, and others around the country, the road to PNG citizenship may have been long but generally their assimilation into the local communities have been successful.
The PNG Government provided health and education services as well as small business opportunities for the residents of the refugee camp. Some have even succeeded in their education to become tradesmen and public servants working in other parts of the country.
Umpa told the visiting Government officials that East Awain camp has provided 100 teachers and 40 nurses, apart from a number of skilled people like carpenters who have had a hand in the infrastructure development around the country.
Thankfully, the Government has waived the K10,000 citizenship application fee so these rural community people could apply and become PNG citizens.
The spokesman at East Awin told government officials that in the 33 years they had been refugees, the PNG Government and more so the communities in North Fly had allowed them to live in peace and harmony.
Papuans refugees in other parts of PNG like Port Moresby and Manus Island would also be looking forward to becoming citizens one day.
That the Papuan refugees have adapted quite well in their new adopted country speaks a lot about the close affinity between two neighbours, and to some extent relatives, who are separated by a border.
We live in era when the global refugee crisis has spiralled out of control. Each day we hear and read about the thousands of men, women and children displaced from their homes and dying while trying to find a new country. There undoubtedly are unreported cases of people languishing in their state of deprivation and suffering.
The plight of refugees from north and sub-Saharan Africa attempting, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East for instance, is a clear picture of this huge humanitarian crisis.
PNG is all too familiar with the refugee crisis and is doing what it can, as a signatory to the United Nations refugee convention, to help those looking for a new country which is much safer, more secure and peaceful than the one they have been forced to leave.
The West Papuans smiling and waving their certificates of PNG citizenship today are the fortunate ones who can than their accommodating and compassionate neighbour. Their wait has been worth it.

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