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Blocked from entering US, West Papuan leader seeks answers

Radio New Zealand International - May 19, 2015

The West Papuan independence leader Benny Wenda says he has no idea why he was blocked from traveling to the United States last week.

Mr Wenda was hoping to travel from London, where he lives in exile, to Los Angeles for a speaker's tour of California and Hawai'i.

But when he checked in at Heathrow Airport, an alert came up on his passport, and he was taken in for questioning by an official from the US Homeland Security Department, who then revoked his 10-year business visa.

Mr Wenda told Jamie Tahana he was last in the US a few months ago and has no idea why his visa has suddenly been revoked. But he says he's certain it's to do with his work on West Papua.

Benny Wenda: Yeah I was checking in and I handed over my passport to the check-in desk and then there was some issue. So I didn't know what the issue was and then suddenly they called US Homeland Security and they came after about 10 minutes and then after that they grabbed my hand and took me to the corner and then questioned me; 'What are you doing? Why are you going to the United States?' I didn't know what I'd done wrong and why and I have a visa for 10-years and a business visa is not a normal visa and I didn't know what was going on and then in the end they told me that my visa was revoked, but they didn't explain why.

Jamie Tahana: So they revoked your visa and they didn't explain why?

BW: No, they said that I had to go to the embassy. You know, this is not the first time I've been in the US. I've been almost three, four times and my last visit was in October when I used the same visa and I met with the Senate and some congress staff and also I was in New York meeting with the State Senator and Congressmen and the State Department and I'm just confused. At the human level I feel that why and I'm a little bit disappointed but, yeah, now I'm trying to use my lawyer, Jennifer Robinson, and she's trying to find out why the visa is invalid.

JT: You were in the [US a] few months ago and you made it as far as Capitol Hill in Washington, yet this time you're not allowed beyond Heathrow Airport. What's changed in those few months? Was there any suggestion of that from the Homeland Security officer?

BW: I don't know, I don't know, Homeland Security came and they told me my visa was revoked – that's all, there wasn't any explanation.

JT: This did happen in Papua New Guinea a couple of months ago. Were the circumstances of this similar to what happened the other day?

BW: Yeah, it's very similar. I don't know what their reasons are but I'm still questioning myself today.

JT: But you believe it is to do with your West Papua work?

BW: Yes, of course. There isn't any other reason because my campaign, the West Papua voice, is becoming louder and louder and also, on the other hand, our enemy is also working very hard to try and convince every country.

JT: So you were told to contact the US embassy, have you done that? Have you heard any kind of response?

BW: Yeah, we did try to send a request and send some information, some documents and we have to wait for five working days so I don't know what will happen.

[Originally aired on Dateline Pacific, Tuesday 19 May 2015.]

Source: http://www.radionz.co.nz/international/programmes/datelinepacific/audio/201754964/blocked-from-entering-us,-west-papuan-leader-seeks-answers