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Smith, Alan E.D. 1991 Crossing the Border: West Papuan Refugees and the Self-Determination of Peoples, PhD Dissertation, Department of Politics, Monash University.
    © Alan E.D. Smith, 1991. Use of any part of this thesis for any purpose must be acknowledged.

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The response of the Papua New Guinea government to the refugee influx of 1984 was conditioned by the Australian administration's approach to border management prior to Papua New Guinea's independence and by the Papua New Guinea - Indonesia Border Agreement. This approach is one of containment. It seeks to contain the activity and impact of West Papuan nationalists.

The unprecedented scale of the refugee influx in 1984 caused a policy crisis for Papua New Guinea. Efforts to encourage refugees to return home met resistance from the refugees and caused public controversy. Efforts to negotiate safeguards for returning refugees, to secure international monitoring of repatriation and to have Indonesia acknowledge the need to address West Papuan grievances, created increased tension between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. In 1985 when West Papuan refugees arrived in Australia for the first time, the Australian government demonstrated its continuing commitment to the policy of containment which was reflected in its refusal to support Papua New Guinea's attempts to internationalise the issue.

The policy of containment successfully prevents West Papuan nationalism undermining good Indonesia - Australia relations. Papua New Guinea, however, fears a significant political cost through continuing border incidents and tension in its relationship with Indonesia.

The refugee influx afforded Papua New Guinea a legitimate opportunity to press for the cause of the problem to be examined. But its attempts to do so were abandoned for want of international, crucially Australian, support. A massive influx of refugees should automatically set in motion an international process to examine root causes of the influx in order to bring about the necessary conditions for voluntary repatriation.

The achievement of the changes in Irian Jaya necessary to resolve the conflict between West Papuan nationalists and the Indonesian state may depend on the creation of new international measures to address the whole class of frustrated claims to the right of self-determination.

Self-determination came to be equated, during the decolonisation era, with the process of dismantling European empires to create new states out of colonial territories. States, old and new, rejecting secessionism, have rejected further application of the principle of self-determination of peoples. Reconstruction of the right of self-determination requires the nexus between self-determination and independence to be broken. What is needed is an authoritative international process through which self-determination claims can be assessed and a range forms through which the aspirations they represent can be satisfied.

The current examination by the UN of the situation of indigenous peoples involves it in a new discourse concerning the right of self-determination. The demands by indigenous peoples are not usually for the formation of new states, but are commonly for recognition of their sovereignty and recognition in international law. Free Association, formulated by the UN during the decolonisation period as an alternative to independence and integration into another state, remains an under-explored form through which new, internationally safeguarded relationships between sovereign peoples and sovereign states right be negotiated.


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