West Papuan Refugees in Papua New Guinea: On the Way to Citizenship?

Jenny Munro, In Brief 2016/19

At Rainbow settlement in Port Moresby, 38 families of West Papuan heritage live in a drainage ditch approximately 100  metres wide by 200 metres long. To one side, the neighbours’ retaining wall contains pipes which direct runoff water and rain directly into the settlement. On the other side of the settlement is a construction site that doubles as a soccer field for Rainbow’s children. The houses are small structures built with a patchwork of materials that reveals the recent history of external engagement — tarps from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), plywood from a church fundraiser, plastic chairs from a West Papuan who lives outsideer the settlement. In the context of increasing efforts from Papua New Guinea (PNG) authorities to register West Papuan refugees and provide citizenship status, this In Brief flags some of the relevant historical context and reflects on current challenges. As Papua New Guineans including Oro Province Governor Gary Juffa have suggested, citizenship is not sufficient to improve West Papuan refugees’ living conditions.

Over 100 West Papuan refugees have been living in Rainbow for the past eight years, since being evicted from 9 Mile settlement. According to one community leader, 22  babies were born to refugee families in the settlement in 2015. The children are entitled to access public school education and health services though their residency status remains ambiguous. But like other urban residents in Port Moresby’s settlements, many children do not attend school because their parents struggle to afford sufficient food, clean clothes, transport or extra costs associated with school.


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