Preparing for the Second Wave

Preparing for the Second Wave

Five Indonesian battleships are patrolling the sea border with Australia, preventing the flight of Papuans, 600 of whom are ready to emigrate to this neighboring country.

Tempo Magazine (via Joyo Indonesia News) No. 32/VI April 11-17, 2006

FIVE Indonesian battleships have taken up positions in the Arafuru Sea. They patrol the border with Australia, scrutinizing each passing motorboat. "If a boat carrying suspicious persons is found, we will check it out," said Lieutenant Colonel Toni Syaiful, spokesman for the Indonesian Navy's Eastern Fleet. Full alert has been in effect since Monday of last week.

The Arafuru Sea has been a favorite route for (Indonesian) Papuans seeking asylum in Australia. In mid-January, 43 Papuans crossed over via this route. The Australian government provided a warm reception by issuing them three-year visas. Words of protest have emanated from Jakarta.

Although President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has recalled the country's ambassador from Canberra for the meantime, Australia has not altered its stance.

Recently, some Indonesian businesspeople formed a protest. On Thursday of last week, an association of Indonesian importers agreed to boycott fruit, meat, cookies, and other products from Australia.

It seems that officials in Jakarta will have to get used to the maneuvers of the asylum seekers from Papua. A number of leaders of the Free Papua Organization (OPM) have confirmed that political-asylum seekers will most likely continue to flee until there is international intervention to end the Papua dispute. This campaign to seek asylum is being coordinated by the West Papua Association, which is headquartered in Australia.

Planned two years ago, the flight was conducted in addition to demonstrations and international lobbying.

A number of OPM envoys abroad have lobbied countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Fiji, Germany, Vanuatu, Jordan, Australia, and some African nations. The main theme of their campaign varies in each area. In Europe, they focus on human rights. In the Pacific, they appeal to unity of the Melanesians, the dominant race in this region.

In Africa, the OPM highlights the fact that Papuans are a part of the Negroid race. On Thursday of last week, to Koran Tempo daily, Jacob Rumbiak said that the organization has opened representative offices in several African nations, such as Sierra Leone and Ghana. The OPM is also going to open offices in other African countries.

Since the beginning of the Papua conflict, a number of countries in Africa have actively supported Papuan independence. On July 1, 1975, four years after the proclamation of the independence of West Papua, the OPM officially opened its office in Dakar, led by Ben Tanggahma, a man from Jayapura who had fled there.

The political campaign for a Free Papua has also reached the United States. After 43 asylum seekers landed in Australia last January, Jacob Rumbiak sent letters to several members of the US Congress in Washington, DC. He urged those American political figures to support Papuan independence.

In America, which has a large population of African-Americans, the OPM has a long-standing alliance with the Black Caucus, the group which has struggled for the rights of blacks worldwide. Founded in 1971, this organization is well known among African-American citizens. Their prominence rose after successfully helping Jean Bertrand Aristide retake the presidency of Haiti in 1994, which had been taken over by a military coup in mid-1991.

Recently, the Black Caucus has struggled on behalf of the independence of West Papua. In mid-June 2005, they succeeded in entering Bill HR 2601 into Congress. This bill mentions that Papua became a part of Indonesia on account of political manipulation. It also says that about 100,000 Papuans have been killed since the region became a part of Indonesia in 1969. They are convinced that genocide has taken place in Papua.

This bill has not yet been passed by the US Senate, but the issue of genocide continues to be voiced. After landing at Cape York, Australia, last January, Herman Wainggai, the leader of the 43 asylum seekers from Papua, also mentioned the same thing. "Indonesia has clearly committed genocide in Papua," he accused. Jakarta has strongly denied this accusation.

Several media outlets in Australia have said that the flight of Herman's group will soon be imitated by other groups. On Saturday two weeks ago, The Age, one of Australia's largest newspapers, said that about 600 Papuans are ready to cross over to neighboring countries in the Pacific.

This first group of 43 asylum seekers emigrated last January. However, because motorboats were not available, the others were put on a waiting list. The details of this flight were arranged by Edison Waromi, an activist of the West Papua movement who lives in Australia. To The Age, Waroni confirmed that the other asylum seekers will soon follow if the first wave succeeds in obtaining visas.

It looks like Waroni was right. After Australia granted visas to 42 of the asylum seekers, it was reported that six other Papuans sailed for Australia on Sunday of last week. This group was led by Paulus Samkakai, a labor activist in Merauke. Australian media said that these asylum seekers landed on Bamboo Island, an uninhabited island south of Australia. Two children and a 2-month-old baby were a part of this group.

The Australian government has not commented on the second arrival of asylum seekers. Amanda Vanstone, the Australian Minister of Immigration, who three weeks ago cheerily announced asylum for 42 Papuans, said that they had not yet received reliable information and that they do not yet want to give any comment.

After the Indonesian Military (TNI) began to keep a close watch on the sea border, asylum seekers began preparing other routes of flight. Edison Warom has said that the remaining asylum seekers are likely to cross over to Papua New Guinea. From there, they will continue their journey to Australia.

There are some routes of passage between West Papua and Papua New Guinea which have long been used by asylum seekers. One sea route runs from Jayapura to Vanimo, a small town in Papua New Guinea. This route became popular during the time of the political unrest in 1962, the most famous flight taking place on February 7, 1984. At that time, tens of people fled to Vanimo. They left from Pantai Pasir Enam, Jayapura, by motorboat.

This flight was triggered by the arrest of Arnold Clemens Ap, a famous cultural expert in Papua. Arnold was a figure of the student movement at Cenderawasih University from the old generation. He helped mobilize the students when Ortiz San, the envoy of the United Nations, arrived to evaluate the Act of Free Choice (Pepera) in 1969. After West Papua became a part of Indonesia, Arnold founded Membesak, an arts and culture organization.

This organization was suspected of being a front. It was said that Arnold was a liaison between OPM elements in the jungle and the cities. This is why he was arrested by the military. When Arnold attempted to flee to Vanimo, where his wife and children had previously fled, he was shot by the authorities, breathing his last breath in Aryoko Hospital in Jayapura. The details surrounding Arnold's flight are still shrouded in mystery, but his friends doubt that he tried to flee.

Fleeing to Vanimo can also be done via Wutung, an area on the border of West Papua and Papua New Guinea. This route is more practical because it only takes an hour to travel from Wutung to Vanimo by car. This is the route which was used by Mathias Wenda, the leader of the National Liberation Army (TPN) the military division of the OPM, while fleeing from the pursuing TNI. From Vanimo, Wenda coordinates with his troops.

The Wutung route was also used by Zeth Rumkomrem, who proclaimed Papuan independence, on July 1, 1971, to flee to Papua New Guinea. Deserting to neighboring countries can also be done under the guise of cultural tourism. This unique method was used by a number of Papuan cultural performers, including the famous musical group of the 1970s, Black Brothers, known best for their song entitled Judgment Day. Air New Guinea invited this group to perform in Port Moresby. However, after their performance, they were reluctant to return home and applied for asylum.

In addition to these routes, fleeing to Papua New Guinea can also be done through a mountainous region. In several areas along the border, such as Tanah Merah, Puncak Mandala, Arso in Jayapura, and the Merauke region, there are valleys which can be used by the asylum seekers.

As a result, Papua New Guinea has become a way-station for those fleeing from Papua. While some set up residence here, others have continued on to the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Australia, and several small countries in the Pacific. The Black Brothers musical group continued their journey to the Netherlands, while Zeth Rumkorem went to Sweden. Those who stay on in Papua New Guinea generally live in Vanimo, Madang, and the capital city of Port Moresby.

With so many available routes of flight, it seems difficult to prevent asylum seekers from crossing the border. Edison Waromi, who said he was busy arranging the flight of hundreds of other Papuans, confirmed that the asylum seekers are prepared to traverse obscure routes to reach Papua New Guinea.

On Tuesday of last week, Regent of Merauke Johanes Gluba Gebze said that about 8,000 political refugees from West Papua have settled in a number of cities in Papua New Guinea. This is the running total since 1962, when the political situation in West Papua began to heat up. The local government in Merauke sent back 383 residents in 2003. The rest have not yet been sent home because there are no funds available.

Gebze is urging the central government to provide jobs for the political refugees who have returned. "They are living beings, not objects for us to put in a warehouse. We have to fill their stomachs," he said.

The government of Papua New Guinea has not taken a definitive stance regarding asylum seekers. This country recognizes West Papua as a part of Indonesia, but it seems that their admission is just a political nicety. Although this country refused to accept a delegation from West Papua in a meeting of Melanesians held several weeks ago, a number of OPM leaders can still freely carry on their struggle from within the country's borders.

Wenseslaus Manggut, Cunding Levi, and Lita Utomo (Jayapura)