WEST PAPUANS TOLD TO WAIT ON REFUGEE STATUS

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (January 20, 2001 - Papua New Guinea Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has informed West Papuan border crossers in Vanimo that the process for granting refugee status will take some time.

UNHCR representative for the Oceania region, Mise Hitoshi, is in Vanimo explaining the process to the border crossers as well as their responsibilities as refugees, if such status is ever granted.

The border crossers fled into Papua New Guinea to escape growing violence in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya (West Papua) following the arrest of pro-independence leaders.

Four other UNHCR staff and two representatives of the Papua New Guinea government are accompanying Mr. Hitoshi.

The Catholic Bishop for Vanimo, Cesare Bonivento, said that both the government and UNHCR had expressed satisfaction and appreciation for the actions of the church in assisting the border crossers so far.

The church presented a report to UNHCR and the government representatives on the border crossers.

"We gave them a report and they are very happy. Everybody is happy for what we did and we will just continue doing what we are doing," he said.

The government also presented a check for K 22,000 (US$ 6,710) as partial repayment of the more than K 65,000 (US$ 20,000) spent by the church so far in looking after the West Papuans.

Bishop Bonivento said the Catholic Church accepted the government’s kind gesture and pledged to continue to do their best for the border crossers.

"The situation with the granting of refugee status is open. It does not necessarily mean that they will be granted refugee status at the end of the process," he said.

"I have requested to both the United Nations and the government that the border crossers must continue to receive good treatment, and they both agreed. I also insisted that as long as they are here they should receive everything acceptable to human dignity," he said.

Bishop Bonivento said for the time being the church was happy that the National government and UNHCR were in town visiting the West Papuans.

"I am happy that at least both the UNHCR and the government are here and are talking to the border crossers. That in itself is a very positive sign and we appreciate the goodwill by the government and the UNHCR," he said.

The border crossers have been moved to a new location.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

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