David Fedele Independent Documentary Filmmaker
On 16th February, 2011, in the jungle near Vanimo in Sandaun Province in Papua New Guinea (less than 50km from the West Papuan border), I saw with my own eyes the destruction that special operation “Sunset Merona” had caused to many West Papuan refugees living in PNG. Only three weeks earlier the special operation, led by Papua New Guinea Police and Defence Force, had conducted raids on many villages and settlements where West Papuan refugees had been living peacefully and with land-owner permission for many years.
They came at night, and burnt down all of their houses and possessions, and destroyed their gardens.
Photo by David Fedele
Most of the men were able to escape into the bush, while most of the women and children were taken and held in a make-shift illegal detention centre in Vanimo.
Three weeks after the raid, the men came out of hiding in the bush to talk to me, and the women were able to leave their detention for only a couple of hours, as they told their captors they were looking for food from the garden. After I left, the men went back into the bush to hid, and the women returned to where they were being held.
My understanding is that for a long time after this event, the refugees were unable to return to their village, and remained hiding in the jungle, on the run from special operation Sunset Merona.
View video from the aftermath of this tragedy