West Papua refugees share their stories at Lithgow forum


West Papuan refugees Bas Fairio and Sonny Karubaba shared their stories with members of the community at the Lithgow and District Workmen’s Club on Saturday, December 8.

Event organiser, Lithgow RN and West Papuan human rights advocate Anthony Craig, said he hoped their stories would encourage people to learn more about the plight of West Papuan refugees and to advocate for change.

Mr Craig, who has visited West Papuan refugee camps in Papua New Guinea and has been to West Papua itself, said people often hear about the conditions of camps on Nauru, but not about these camps and conditions he called “appalling”. 

“Think about the cubby houses your kids put together in the backyard, made of bits and pieces, makeshift,” he said.

“That’s the kind of homes they are living in.”

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The camps and their residents are always vulnerable to being shifted, while the long-term future of the camps is uncertain.

Mr Fairio and Mr Karubaba now have Papua New Guinea citizenship, which allows them to travel to Australia, but they still live in a refugee camp. 

Mr Fairio said he was “amazed and rejoiced” to be standing in Lithgow and able to speak to Australian communities.

He said he had lived in PNG for four decades after fleeing from his home country and violence from Indonesian armed forces.

“I have a duty to talk to Pacific people, so they are able to know, to be with us and support us,” he said.

“We believe freedom can come, it happened for East Timor.”

Mr Karubaba grew up in camps in PNG and described conditions in which 53 families shared a single area of ground “the size of this club”, in which power only operated from 7pm-11.30pm.

“It is so crowded, so noisy in the camps, it is hard [for children] to study,” he said.

“To get a job as a refugee is quite difficult.”

He said a large percentage of refugees in PNG were employed informally, taking up work when and where they could to support their families.

Mr Karubaba said he welcomed the sight of the West Papuan Morning Star flag being displayed at the event on Saturday. The flag is banned from being flown in West Papua.

Also in the news: Lithgow councillor slams Department of Premier and Cabinet response

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