Priest concerned for safety of new Papuan arrivals

A Catholic priest in Papua said he is concerned for the safety of another boatload of Papuan asylum seekers believed to have landed in Australia.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that a Catholic priest in the Papuan coastal town of Merauke, Fr Yus Mawengkang, said a family of six reached an uninhabited island three days ago.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, said last night: "I can confirm there are reports, [but] these are operational matters and I cannot comment further."

It was unclear whether the group had been picked up by Australian coastal patrols.

Forty-three asylum seekers arrived in Australia in January, also from Merauke, near the Papua New Guinea border. Australia has granted asylum to 42 of them, prompting Indonesia to withdraw its ambassador.

Fr Mawengkang identified the group as a union activist, Paulus Samkakai, his wife and four children, including a two-month-old baby.

The priest said he had spoken to the fishermen who dropped the family at a spot known locally as Bamboo Island on Sunday. The two men then returned by speedboat to Merauke, where they had gone into hiding.

Fr Mawengkang said he was concerned for the family's safety. "They only have some packages of instant noodles and canned fish only to survive for a few days - so you can imagine."

Mr Samkakai had been a thorn in the side of business and political leaders, he said. He headed a union at the small Kelapa Lima port in Merauke. Indonesian intelligence officers are understood to have been seeking information on Mr Samkakai in recent days.

More Papuans land in far north (Sydney Morning Herald 5/4/06)

PNG bishop warns jihadists setting up in West Papua (CathNews 27/3/06)
Commission seeks action on West Papuan asylum seekers (CathNews 16/3/06)
'Repeat of Timor' fear for West Papua (CathNEws 2/2/06)
Bishop says Jakarta sought access to Papuan asylum seekers (CathNews 25/1/06)

Papuan boat arrival fuels crisis (The Age 5/4/06)
More Papuan asylum seekers arrive (The Australian/Australian Associated Press 4/4/06)
Ruling on Papuans welcomed (Catholic Leader 2/4/06)

5 Apr 2006