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Monday, 20 May 1985
Page: 2125


Senator McINTOSH —My question is directed to the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. It concerns a report in the Age of 14 may in which it was stated that 79 Irian Jayan refugees from the Blackwater camp in Papua New Guinea were to be repatriated to Jayapura that day. Is the Minister aware whether these refugees are being repatriated voluntarily or is it a matter of forced repatriation? Is he aware how long Papua New Guinea officials will stay with the repatriated refugees after their arrival in Jayapura? Is the Minister aware of any arrangements which have been made for West Irians who do not wish to be repatriated or whether the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is involved in the repatriation?


Senator GARETH EVANS —It is the case that last week the Papua New Guinea authorities repatriated another 50 border crossers who asked to be returned to Irian Jaya. Papua New Guinea officials and leaders from three of the border camps travelled with this group of border crossers to their villages in Irian Jaya. As well as observing the present repatriation exercise, it is the intention of camp leaders and Papua New Guinea officials to contact members of an earlier group of Irianese who were voluntarily repatriated in December last year. The UNHCR representative in Papua New Guinea observed the repatriation in Vanimo but he did not travel to Jayapura.

That is as much information as I have about the specific circumstances of last week. To the extent that I have not answered all of Senator McIntosh's questions I will follow them up further. But a little more ought to be said generally about the border crossing situation. There are about 10,000 border crossers from Irian Jaya in camps and along the border in Papua New Guinea. The view of the Australian Government is that the border problem, including the repatriation of the border crossers, is one for Papua New Guinea and Indonesia to resolve. As Mr Hayden said in Papua New Guinea, Australia does not wish to be intrusive and both countries understand this. Naturally, we have a continuing humanitarian interest, reflected in our $1.5m contribution to the UNHCR for its relief efforts in the border camps.

During Mr Hayden's visit to Papua New Guinea in February, Prime Minister Somare, Foreign and Trade Minister Giheno and other Papua New Guinea Government leaders and officials briefed him fully on the situation. The Papua New Guinea Government's approach, publicly stated by Mr Giheno, is that those border crossers who are true refugees will be referred to the UNHCR. Traditional border crossers and others there because of current circumstances will be encouraged to return. Mr Giheno stressed that there was no timetable for this and that it was a matter for the Papua New Guinea and Indonesian governments to work out. He noted the need to work very cautiously and not to rush things. That is the Australian Government's perspective on this matter and what we are doing within the limits of our capacity to monitor the situation.