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Catholics concerned about PNG repatriation plans

The Catholic Church is seeking assurances that asylum seekers who have crossed the Indonesian border into Papua New Guinea will not be forced to return.

The PNG government has announced plans to repatriate around 300 asylum seekers who fled Indonesia's Papua province more than two years ago.

Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG spokesman Lawrence Stephens says the Church is concerned at reports police could be involved in the repatriation exercise.

"We've heard suggestions that firstly it's to be a voluntary repatriation, but secondly if people are not ready to go voluntarily, it's possible they might be forcibly removed," Mr Stephens said.

"This is fairly appalling, and would have to be a mistake, because it would be a denial of all the international agreements that we're familiar with and know this country supports," he said.

"When the Bishop of Vanimo was first faced with the issue of these people being threatened with deportation some time back, he described how grown men burst out crying, talking about their fear of being returned.

"Basically we believe they have a reasonable fear of being persecuted if they are returned."

Radio Australia/Radio Australia

Indonesia and PNG agree on repatriation of asylum seekers (Radio Australia)
UN concerned about refugees in PNG (Radio Australia)
Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea
Caritas PNG: Deportation order: 22 "OPM rebels" in Vanimo (30/6/01)
Pax Christi Australia: West Papua and Self-Determination
West Papua News Online
Free Papua Movement (OPM)

6 Mar 2003