People still crossing Indonesia border: Papua New Guinea’s province governor

Control point on the Papua New Guinea - Indonesia border. Photo: RNZ. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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JAYAPURA, May 20, 2020, RNZ. The governor of Papua New Guinea’s West Sepik province says people are still defying the official border closure and crossing into Indonesia, Radio New Zealand reported.

PNG closed its border with the neighbouring country three months ago in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19, of which there’s been a surge in cases in Indonesia’s Papua province.

Governor Tony Wouwou said West Sepik acted early, with awareness campaigns and the deployment of a rapid response team, to implement public restrictions.

But he said there was still not enough security forces to stop people, particularly PNG vanilla traders, crossing the border through the bush.

“In the sea as well too. Normally they go through at night time to do their vanilla trading.

“Though we have personnel staying in Vanimo – defence force and police force – but still we don’t have enough man forces to ensure we secure our borders.”

Meanwhile, dozens of Papua New Guinea citizens stranded in neighbouring Indonesia were waiting approval from the Emergency Controller to be repatriated.

Up to 120 citizens, mainly people recently released from prison, had been stuck for weeks in Jayapura, the capital of Indonesian-administered Papua province, pending permission to be transferred by authorities across the nearby border to PNG’s West Sepik province

Tony Wouwou said they were still waiting for the Controller, Police Commissioner David Manning, to give the green light for them to cross the border.

“So that is what we are looking for now, waiting for him to give his approval. Once we have approval in order, then we might as well ask the Indonesian government to bring them across to the border and we’ll pick them up from there.

“By next week, we should be done,” Mr Wouwou said, adding that it was expected that Indonesian health officials would only allow the PNG citizens to cross the border after clearing tests for Covid-19.

On the PNG side, they were expected to go into mandatory 14-day quarantine in Vanimo.

Mr Wouwou said that they would be quarantined in two houses, with the group coming across in smaller groups over staggered phases to prevent over-crowding.

While provincial resources were stretched to cope with the exercise, Mr Wouwou said West Sepik was waiting on funding from PNG’s national government.

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