From Merauke to Australia

Escape

December 2005

Escape 2005

Jayapura to Merauke 

I’d been in jail for two years (2002 and 2004), and toward the end of my prison term, I began to think of my future and the dangers that I would face after leaving jail. My fear was that I would be arrested again and jailed for life, but what scared me the most was that I could be executed. These things were heavy on my mind, and toward the end of 2004, the thought of escaping West Papua seemed to be the only reasonable thing to do.  When my father visited me in prison, I asked him if he could build me a large canoe. I didn’t really tell him what I was planning, but he understood that I needed it.

On the day of my release, I got out and went straight home to my family. They were thrilled to see me. It was a wonderful reunion after two years away from home, especially seeing my mom after a long while. When I was in prison, my father often visited me and brought me food, but my mother refused to come – it was hard for her to see me in prison, and see how terrible things were for me as a political prisoner. I understood why she felt that way.

Not long after release, I shared with my father my plan to escape West Papua and that I wanted to escape to Australia. Though my father knew the idea was extremely dangerous, he didn’t stop me. He was supportive of my plan. He then revealed to me that he’d been working on my Yapen-canoe. I was elated! 

I gathered my most trusted activists and I revealed to them what I was planning to do. They were excited and told me they wanted to be part of it. But first, I must take a trip down south to see for myself the cities that we would travel pass. We parted and planned to meet again once I returned to the trip. 

I left Jayapura and traveled to Merauke stopping over in a few cities along the way. My goal was to see some of our  activists along the coastal cities and to stake out areas where could stop to refuel and resupply. I realized how heavily militarized our cities are. There are soldiers and police posts everywhere, and most of the cities were filled with undercover officers crawling the streets looking for suspicious people. 

I returned to Jayapura and found my friends anxiously waiting to embark on the journey to “nowhere.”  We sat down and went through my plan and how to accomplish it, and I made it clear to them that I had not finalized anything. I pointed out that this plan had the potential to destroy us, but I also told them I had faith things would be just fine. 

Toward the end of 2005, all our activists and their families and I agreed to travel to Yapen Island. To avoid unwanted attention, we agreed to travel to Yapen on different boats, different days and times, but we knew exactly where to meet. 

When the time came, I departed Jayapura for Yapen and joined my father. Soon, all our activists – male, female, and children arrived, and we spent a week “fasting and praying” about our trip. I told them to back off if their feelings changed or any negative feelings about the proposal came up. At the end of the fasting period, all our activists revealed to me that they were firm in their decision. 

After everything sorted out, we left for the city of Merauke. Our activists escorted the women and children to Sorong by boat while my father and I, our skipper and another guy, launched our canoe and departed Yapen (Serui) to Manokwari. We arrived at Manokwari in the evening, and we met with our activists who took us shopping and bought us, much-needed supply, and then we went on to Sorong. 

At Sorong, we united with our families who went ahead of us. We spent a few days, but we had to leave because our attention and our new canoe caught the attention of police in Sorong. We left in haste, aiming for Fakfak and from there we stopped at Timika, and then we left for Merauke.

We finally arrived in Merauke on the final days of December 2005. The trip from Jayapura to Merauke took us about a month. The weather was our biggest enemy. The changes in the weather and our limited understanding of the coastal region contributed to the length of time it took us to reach Merauke.

Merauke to Australia 

We spent a couple of weeks in Merauke and then one day police in town started noticing our canoe. They came to where we were staying and demanded to know why we were there. My father went out to meet them and went with the officers to the police station and told them that we were in town for a wedding, and we would return home after everything was done. He also gave them his IDs, which was a huge gamble because had they checked my father’s ID online, they would have found out that my father’s brother was Dr. Thom Wainggai. 

On Christmas eve, they found a dead body and the Indonesian police locked down the city. Curfew hour was imposed, and we decided it was the best time to head out. We made preparation on Christmas eve (Sunday 24) and toward midnight, we launched our canoe. We hugged our families and friends, and then we left Merauke. The rain was heavy but we had no choice. We paddled quietly in to the dark until we were far away from mainland and then our skippers cranked up the engines, and we were on our way to Australia. 

Trouble in middle of nowhere

Before we left I estimated our trip would take at least 12 hours before we reached Australia, and so brought with us enough supplies to last as a day and a half. In the morning, we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere with no island in night. We stayed on course until the net day, there was no sign of land. Our food ran out, and we just relied on rainwater to keep us alive. To make things worse, one of the engines ceased to work, and so we were literally traveling on about a third of our initial speed. 

On day three, we were starving and helpless. As the sun rose higher, we spotted land – very flat landscape. We approached the land cautiously because some of us thought we may have drifted toward mainland Indonesia. As we came close to the shore, we saw a huge sign-board by the beach. A few of our boys hit the water and swam ashore as the rest of us watched from the canoe. The men got to the beach and walked up to the sign-board, and then they started dancing. We knew we made it to Australia. They were jubilant, so did we. The place is Mapoon – a protected indigenous lands in the Northern Territory. 

X-indicates Mapoon

Mapoon to Christmas Island 

Mapoon is a coastal area in the far north of Northern Territory. We went ashore, made a fire and prayed – thanking God for keeping us and bringing us safely to Australia. A helicopter flew over taking pictures of our group, and soon our story was broadcasted throughout Australia. Not long and the Australian Navy arrived and took us to an Australian military vessel, and we were taken to Christmas Island. 

We found out later that Christmas Island is an Australian territory was closer to Indonesian mainland than Australia, and the Australian government operates a detention center on the island where people who entered Australia illegally are kept while their statuses are assessed and carefully scrutinized. We were spent about four months on the Island pending Australian government analysis of our case. 

Protection Visas 

The Australian government later granted us protection visa and transported us to Melbourne, Australia. It was the beginning of another journey. I wanted to be in Australia to continue our struggle against Indonesian colonization of our land. Australia was simply the starting point of another journey to bring the story of West Papua to the world. 

Escape to Australia — 2005

Life in prison was horrible. I spent about two years behind bars – we spent almost all day in door was looking forward to leaving prison and go home. I will talk about this experience in detail in my video clip. However, during the final months of my time in prison, I was a little nervous about  my life outside prison. My greatest fear is that I would be arrested against and probably spend the rest of my life in prison, and perhaps died in prison as my uncle. Another fear I had was that I could be killed for leading peaceful protests. Escape was the only reasonable solution. I wanted to escape the dangers I was facing, but I also wanted to show the world what we are facing in Australia. I didn’t know how I would do it, but I had faith things would work out.

Toward the end of 2004, my father visited me in prison, and before he left, I asked if he could build me a large canoe. He didn’t ask me why I needed it or anything like that, he just smiled and gave me a huge then he left.

After my release in 2005, I already made plans to escape West Papua. I knew that my next arrest would be the end of me – execution! At the end of the year, we I escaped West Papua to Australia.

Here’s my story:  watch the clip.