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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2391


Senator McINTOSH —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Government seen a recent report by the International Commission of Jurists concerning the plight of refugees from West Irian still camped in Papua New Guinea? If so, what is the Government's reaction to the report's conclusions?


Senator BUTTON —The Government has received the draft report from the International Commission of Jurists Australian chapter following the visit to the Papua New Guinea-Indonesia border in August-September last year and has considered it. The view is that the report is well intentioned but seems, overall, to contain little basis for its key conclusions; that is, firstly, that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has determined that the great majority of the 11,000 or so Irianese border crossers in Papua New Guinea are refugees on the basis of their group mass influx and, secondly, that Australia has shown a poor level of awareness of the situation.

The Government believes that the first point is incorrectly based. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has made no formal determination on the status of the border crossers. As a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, it is the responsibility of Papua New Guinea to institute formal determination procedures in co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner. This has not yet been done and in these circumstances it would be highly presumptuous of Australia to announce its own determination of their status.

The Government rejects the second point; namely, that Australia has shown a poor level of awareness of the situation. It pays close attention to the problems relating to the border. I am very mindful of the welfare of the border crossers and the difficult issues involved in their care and repatriation. The Government believes, however, that these are essentially bilateral matters for resolution between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. In an effort to assist with the bilateral problem, Australia has provided $4m for relief efforts since 1984-85 and would have no objection to the application of a proportion of non-budgetary assistance to Papua New Guinea for the border crossers should the Papua New Guinea Government decide on that priority.