Article Refugee child ignites Indonesia tensions PDF Afdrukken

Papuans Yunus Wainggai and daughter Anike, 4, in Melbourne. Papuans Yunus Wainggai and daughter Anike, 4, in Melbourne.
Photo: Michael Rayner

By Michael Gordon     April 18, 2006 
Explosive new claims surrounding a four-year old Papuan girl granted refugee status in Australia are set to further strain relations between Canberra and Jakarta, and to test the Howard Government's new, harder-line border protection policy. The girl's mother, who is in hiding in Papua New Guinea, claims she was coerced by Indonesia into making a false appeal for the return of her daughter to West Papua. The girl, Anike Wanggai, and her father were among 42 Papuans recently granted refugee status in Australia. The mother, Siti Pandera Wanggai, claims she was pressured into appealing to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to help secure her daughter's return. In a written statement, Ms Wanggai alleged that an Indonesian army intelligence officer and two members of her own family had pushed her into falsely claiming that her daughter was taken without her permission. "I was taken away by them and told to agree to the entire contents of the statement that was made by the three of them," she said. Ms Wanggai says she fears for her own safety if she is forced to return to West Papua from PNG. "Don't leave me here too long because I'm afraid," she told The Age yesterday by telephone. Ms Wanggai's initial statements seeking the return of her daughter were widely reported in the Indonesian and Australian media, and seized on by the Indonesia Government. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda stated that, as signatories to a convention on child protection, Australia and Indonesia were obliged to secure the girl's return. He also warned that Indonesia could institute court proceedings. "It is the mother who has the natural right to take care of her child," he said. But David Manne, the lawyer representing the woman's husband and daughter, and the 40 other Papuans who were also found to have well-founded fears of persecution, said it was now clear there was involvement "at a high political level" to discredit, intimidate and harass those who had successfully lodged claims for protection in Australia. "It's difficult to imagine anything more pernicious," he told The Age. Mr Manne said he was concerned for the woman's safety and would ask the United Nations and other organisations to give her protection. The allegations coincide with signs that Indonesia is not satisfied with tough new measures aimed at deterring Papuans from seeking asylum in Australia. "Our stance is very clear that we have to review our co-operation and relations with Australia until we clearly have fair ground," Dr Yudhoyono said yesterday. The new measures, which could mean future Papuan asylum seekers being processed on Nauru, denied access to lawyers and refused resettlement in Australia if they are found to be in need of protection, will be outlined to Mr Wirayuda this week by Foreign Affairs and Trade Department head Michael L'Estrange. The woman's husband, Yunus Wanggai, has appealed to the Australian Government to grant his wife asylum, saying he had not had the opportunity to let her know that the boat was leaving West Papua in January "because I was being chased". Under the Howard Government's policy, it is unlikely Mr Wanggai could seek to sponsor his wife to Australia until after he is granted permanent protection - which could be three years away. Moreover, any move to reunite the family in Australia would further antagonise Indonesia, which is still seething over the granting of temporary protection to the 42 Papuans. The couple had not lived together for two years, with Mr Wanggai caring for Anike while his wife lived with her mother. Ms Wanggai, 40, has two children from an earlier marriage. Both insisted yesterday that, despite the two-year estrangement, they wanted to live together with Anike. "Because I love her and she loves me, if I'd had the opportunity, I would have taken her (on the boat to Australia)," he told The Age. A fisherman and mechanic, Mr Wanggai, 36, has admitted to participating in peaceful demonstrations supporting independence for West Papua since 1987 and to helping people flee to PNG when they were being pur sued by Indonesian authorities. He insists he would be arrested and killed if he tried to return to West Papua. He was present yesterday when The Age heard MsWanggai recant her earlier statements and plead for asylum in Australia as she described her own escape from Papua, saying her overwhelming reason for fleeing was that she feared for her safety. Ms Wanggai disappeared in Jayapura on Tuesday, just before she says she was due to fly to Jakarta to meet President Yudhoyono. She spent two days in hiding before leaving with two others in a small boat for PNG. Speaking through an interpreter, Ms Wanggai said she had only the clothes she was wearing and a photograph of her daughter with her when she fled her home. Asked why her grandmother and others described as her friends had corroborated her initial remarks, she said they, too, had been put under pressure and were now concerned for their own safety. She also described how the approach from the intelligence officer and two family members was followed by a meal with seven other intelligence officers in which she was pressured to make the statements seeking her daughter's return and to sign letters to the local governor, as well as Dr Yudhoyono and the Australian Government. While she had been angry with her husband at the time for not telling her he was leaving with Anike, she said she had since understood and agreed with his actions. She was pleased they were safe in Australia and did not want Anike to return to West Papua. Mr Wanggai said he had felt responsible for his wife but had no chance to tell her the boat was leaving. "I've been given protection. She also needs to be given protection," he said. Attempting to reassure her over the phone, he said: "Don't worry about anything. We'll figure it out."
HOW IT UNFOLDED
Jan 13: 43 asylum seekers, including four children, leave Indonesian province of West Papua in small boat.
Jan 18: Boat found on Cape York, making its passengers eligible to apply for refugee status.
Jan 19: RAAF Hercules flies group to Christmas Island to be processed.
Mar 23: Immigration Department grants refugee status to 42 of the asylum seekers (ruling on 43rd pending). Indonesia protests; recalls its ambassador from Canberra.
April 3: The 42 arrive in Melbourne.
April 10: Siti Pandera Wanggai tells Indonesian media she wants Indonesian Government to secure return of her daughter, one of the 42.
April 14: Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone announces border protection improvements.
April 15: Jakarta Post reports Siti Pandera Wanggai has disappeared.
April 17: Siti Pandera Wanggai accuses Indonesia of forcing her to make false claims.