Refugees not here by choice, says academic

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By JUNIOR UKAHA
WEST Papuan refugees seeking to live in Papua New Guinea have not come to look for land or home but were forced out of their country, according to John Lanta.
Lanta, 48, originally from Skou village in West Papua, was one of the 39 West Papuans who took the oath to be Papua New Guinea citizens at a ceremony in Lae yesterday. Lanta, an academic at the University of Technology, said the West Papuan refugees in PNG were a “special case” people.
“West Papuans did not initially come looking for a permanent home. We are different from other settlers,” he said.
“We have a home, we have land, we have everything. But our reasons for being here, we cannot express further. You already know. Our fathers and mothers thought that the journey across the border would be a temporary one.
“Those who arrived in the ’60s thought they would be back by the ’70s. Those who arrived in the ’70s thought it would be the ’80s. The wait prolonged.
“Then more came in the ’80s and in the ’90s.”
He said they then realised “that we may be here for a lifetime”.
“Integrating into PNG culture was slow and hard at first maybe because we refused to believe that our separation from our people and loved ones was going to be permanent,” he said.
“Many suffered depression and many died without a peace of mind.
“But as time went on, our wounds have healed and, for some, perceptions have changed.”

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