Six West Papuans have fled across the border to Australia after being hunted by Indonesian authorities for participating in a ceremonial handover of sacred water and ashes from Australian Indigenous Elders. They have been detained by Australian Immigration after reaching Boigu Island in Australia on Tuesday.
The peaceful ceremony was the culmination of the Freedom Flotilla from Australia to West Papua, and was intended as a symbolic reunification of the peoples and struggles of Indigenous West Papuans and Australians. However, it had to be conducted in secret after Indonesian authorities refused permission for the Australian participants to enter Indonesian waters and threatened to arrest or respond violently to their arrival.
Indonesian authorities also refused permission for Papuans to hold a welcoming ceremony for the Freedom Flotilla in their destination port of Merauke, where police and military surrounded the house of the welcoming committee’s chairman Jhon Wob. Despite this intimidation, a small ceremony was held later in the day at a remote beach, sending origami boats south towards the Australian mainland.
The families of those who participated where then hounded by Indonesian intelligence who sought to identify the people involved in the ceremony. With four Papuans from Sorong already charged with treason for holding a congregation to pray for the safe passage of the flotilla – a charge which carries a maximum life imprisonment, the group had to flee for their safety.
Freedom Flotilla Spokesperson Ruben Blake holds fears for their safety now that they have been detained by Australian authorities. “In this case if they ‘turn back the boats’ the Australian government would be sending them directly back to the country from where they have fled from persecution. Sending refugees back to a country where holding a ceremony can get you arrested, or refusing to cut your hair can get you killed, would be criminal.”
Amos Wainggai, who arrived in Australia as a refugee in 2006, said that “these people have no choice but escape from Indonesia. Now the intelligence is hunting them, they must run otherwise be arrested or killed. They need a safe place to live like I have now in Australia.”
Meanwhile Edison Kendi has been arrested and is currently being detained in Serui, Yapen Island. More than twenty police, military and intelligence presented Kendi with a warrant for his arrest at 8pm last night, for his involvement in organising a welcoming of the sacred water and ashes today. Two others are currently being hunted by police. Other organisers of the event say they will attempt to go ahead with the action despite Kendi’s arrest, saying that “this event is representing our culture and identity, the spirit of our people can not be put out by military force and intimidation”.