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UN agency helps Indonesian refugees relocate in Papua New Guinea

UN agency helps Indonesian refugees relocate in Papua New Guinea

Refugees take boat from Kiunga to Rampsite
With the youngest in the group travelling in her mother’s shoulder bag, the United Nations refugee agency today helped 185 men, women and children from Indonesia’s Papua province complete the first phase of their voluntary relocation in neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG).

A plane chartered by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) transferred the group from the border town of Vanimo in Sandaun province in PNG’s north to the remote mining town of Kiunga in Western province. Later the refugees will travel by boat to Rampsite, about an hour upstream on the Fly River, from where they will be taken by tractor to their destination, the nearby town of East Awin.

The youngest in the group, a two-month-old girl, was carried in her mother’s bilum, a local type of shoulder bag.

UNHCR’s Representative in PNG Johann Siffointe said the promise of more land, better health and education services, and the opportunity to acquire greater residency rights had persuaded the refugees to leave Vanimo.

“The move is an important first step in the integration of the refugees into Papua New Guinea,” he said, adding they will be able to grow vegetables and raise chickens and pigs on the land allocated to them in East Awin, where there are also established schools and health clinics.

Mr. Siffointe said the complex move could become a model for voluntary relocations around the world.

The PNG Government designated East Awin as a suitable relocation area for refugees and asylum seekers, and it has since leased 6,000 hectares from traditional landowners. Some 2,500 refugees from Papua province in Indonesia are already settled there.

Today’s group were among a batch of 460 people who arrived in Vanimo in December 2000. They were part of a wider wave of pro-independence refugees from Indonesia’s adjacent Papua province – formerly known as Irian Jaya – who settled on the PNG side of the border since the late 1960s. Many have subsequently returned to Indonesia.

UNHCR said it would provide the refugees with food, tarpaulin, tools, soap, mosquito nets and other relief items to help ease their transfer in East Awin.