Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The Australian government has received reports that a family of six people from the Indonesian province of West Papua are camping on Bamboo Island in the Torres Strait. The Australian customs service is trying to verify the accuracy of the reports.

It is believed that the group consists of a union activist, his wife and four children. One of the children is believed to be two months old.

A spokesman for Australian immigration minister Amanda Vanstone said that the government were aware of the reports but that it is an operational matter and no further comment will be made.

The Australian Customs Service cannot confirm the reports and are seeking assistance from other authorities in the area. A customs spokesperson said that the area they are searching is massive with hundreds of islands, and that he was unaware of any island called Bamboo.

Father Yus Mawengkang, a Catholic priest in Papua, said the family had been transported to the island on fishing boats and hoped that they would be collected by Australian authorities. He was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “They cannot stay there for too long… they only have some packets of instant noodles and canned fish only to survive for a few days.”

The latest group of Papuans are believed to be from the town of Merauke, the same town where 43 people left to seek political asylum in Australia two months ago. All but one of that group were granted refugee visas, sparking a diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia.