Good news for W Papuan refugees

The National,Friday July 1st, 2016

THE O’Neill Government’s decision to grant citizenship to refugees from West Papua, some of whom have resided in Papua New Guinea since 1962, is really good news.
It comes just days after the shocking news of the barbaric killing of a University of Technology (Unitech) student and destruction of several buildings at the Taraka campus in Lae last Saturday.
And prior to the unprecedented attack at Unitech was the brawl between a group of unruly students and security guards at the University of Papua New Guinea that culminated in the burning of four vehicles last Thursday and the torching of a building at the Waigani campus the next day.
Amidst the shock and horror stories stemming from the prolonged university students’ protest against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, there is a ray of sunshine for a large group of people who have been virtually ignored by successive PNG governments since independence in 1975.
All our previous prime ministers have conveniently swept the West Papua issue under the carpet until O’Neill came along and grabbed the bull by the horn.
This is the Prime Minister who our university students so desperately want to remove from office.
Ironically, this is also the Prime Minister who initiated the free education and free healthcare policies that the majority of our citizens, including the students and their parents, are benefitting from.
Our Melanesian brothers and sisters from across the border will now benefit from O’Neill latest initiative to grant them citizenship minus the K10,000 fee charged to a foreigner who has qualified to become a naturalised citizen.
Last year, O’Neill became the first Prime Minister to break the PNG Government’s silence on the sensitive West Papua issue.
In his historic statement during the 2015 National Leaders’ Summit in Port Moresby, O’Neill said PNG had become a respected regional leader but had not spoken about the human rights issues across its common border with Indonesia.
“I think, as a country, time has come for us to speak about the oppression of our people there. Pictures of brutality of our people appear daily on the social media, and yet, we take no notice. We have the moral obligation to speak for those who are not allowed to talk. We must be the eyes for those who are blindfolded.”
O’Neill told a recent radio talkback show that the Government had expressed concerns about human rights issues in West Papua and their desire for autonomy to the Indonesian authorities, including President Joko Widodo.
“The response we are getting from Indonesia is that they welcome such a dialogue and also they are positive about the desire for West Papua to have some more autonomy”
We commend the Prime Minister for his bold initiative to establish dialogue with Indonesia on this sensitive issue, which his predecessors had ignored for fear of upsetting our giant neighbour.
Despite the recent university students’ protest and violence, the country can be rest-assured that we have a Prime Minister who will not shirk his moral obligation to our Melanesian brothers and sisters across the border.
O’Neill has now gone a step further with the granting of citizenship to West Papua refugees.
Chief Migration Officer Mataio Rabura revealed on Wednesday that there were 10,000 West Papua refugees who would not be required to pay the citizenship fee because they had been residing in PNG for more than eight years.
Rabura, who met with West Papua refugee leaders in Vanimo on Monday, said this was the opportunity provided by the O’Neill Government for refugees to become citizens.
“This will allow you to move around freely, get education and employment benefits, go overseas on PNG passports, vote or even contest the national election and enjoy other benefits like any PNG citizen.”
The good news was welcomed by West Papua refugee leaders.
One of them, William Brabar, originally from Biak, who crossed the border in 1969, said he had applied for citizenship eight times without success.
“I have been teaching in Port Moresby, Wewak and Vanimo for 40 years and welcome the decision.”
Another refugee leader, Hank Katam, said he had also applied many times to become citizen without success.
Indeed, the O’Neill Government deserves full credit for giving West Papua refugees a new lease of life.