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Papua New Guinea grants legal identity to young refugees

News Stories, 10 May 2004

© UNHCR/J.Siffointe
These refugee children in Blackwara settlement, East Awin, are among the 1,217 who have received birth certificates from the government.

EAST AWIN, Papua New Guinea, May 10 (UNHCR) More than 1,200 young refugees have received birth certificates in Papua New Guinea (PNG), acquiring a legal identity and access to services enjoyed by their hosts.

A total of 1,217 refugees born in Papua New Guinea and living in East Awin, Western province, received their birth certificates in April, under a registration campaign launched by the PNG authorities and the UN refugee agency.

This was the first time birth certificates have been issued to refugees born in PNG, and is a significant step in a country where only 3 percent of the general population have their births registered.

The certificates give refugees a legal identity and therefore a more secure future, said Johann Siffointe, UNHCR Representative in PNG.

"By establishing the legal identity of a person, birth certificates can help refugees open a bank account, get a travel document, and even apply for citizenship," said Siffointe. "The birth registration process can also help governments to plan education and health services for refugee populations."

The newly registered refugees are the children of people who fled Indonesian Irian Jaya almost 20 years ago, and make up about half of the 2,500 refugees currently living in 16 settlements in remote East Awin. At its peak, East Awin hosted 3,600 refugees relocated by the government after they arrived en masse in the mid-1980s.

The current registration campaign began last November with a trip to East Awin by the Department for Community Development, the Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs and UNHCR. Birth Information Forms were completed and sent to the Civil Registry Office Department in Port Moresby for analysis and recording in a central database. The birth certificates were then distributed to the refugees.

Siffointe noted that the certificates are an important development for the refugees in East Awin and will help their local integration into PNG.

"The government of Papua New Guinea should be praised for their humanitarian stance in making the registrations possible. This is completely in line with international human rights law," said Siffointe.

Betty Billy, Registrar General of the Civil Registry, said the PNG government's commitment to register the refugees born in PNG is a fulfilment to comply with articles 2, 7 and 22 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

"The registration of refugees born in PNG highlights the government's responsibility for non-discrimination by vesting the legal status to the refugees," said Billy. "This effort would not have been a reality without the joint support and collaboration of the Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs Border Affairs and UNHCR."

Gei Ilagi, Secretary of the Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs, said the exercise was the first of its kind and that the government would continue to encourage it.

"With the completion of this exercise, the government is now satisfied that Papua New Guinea has met one of the requirements of the Refugee Convention that obligated the government to issue documentation to refugees," he said. These documents include birth certificates, travel documents and permissive residency permits.

Other refugees born in PNG but not living in East Awin, will have the chance to register during a free national registration campaign launched in March by the Civil Registry Office of the Department of Community Development and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Papua New Guinea hosts more than 2,800 refugees, the large majority of whom live in refugee settlements in East Awin and Vanimo.

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