Oxfam Repatriation Project: Rescue From Sorcery

For the last 9 months, non-governmental organization Oxfam International PNG and its partners have been evacuating people in the Highlands who face life-threatening violence from sorcery-related attacks.

Oxfam compiled a survey depicting the challenges they faced and the costs incurred in repatriating victims to refuge. Sorcery attacks in Papua New Guinea are a fatal ordeal where an accused person or party is usually murdered under allegations of practising sorcery.


Oxfam and a nationwide loosely-connected network of supporters are at the helm of saving people who are directly involved with sorcery attacks.


Although sorcery killings are deemed as an inhumane and illegal act, the other side of the story people tend to forget are the actual victims’ and their struggle to deviate from such a foul act, in order to survive.


Oxfam has identified that despite minimum funding from the PNG Government, a brave network of activists across PNG is working to rescue, repatriate and reintegrate innocent victims of sorcery-related attacks.


This pilot repatriation project saves an average of 3 lives every week since it began in October 2013.


It costs an average of K600 to rescue and repatriate a victim to a safe location – a further K750 provides funding for victims to start a new life in a safe location.


The preliminary findings of the survey showed the lack of proper networking of agencies but also proved its importance in rescuing victims of sorcery violence.


Efficient repatriation, proper resources, facilities and security and funding, inclusive of credible data collection, were main impediments that were also highlighted in the survey.


The report also indicated recommendations and some of these were shared by Mr. Phillippe Allen from Oxfam International PNG.


Mr. Allen suggested 3 main points:


· More dialogue with Provincial Governments – provincial and district administrators must be “in the know” so they are aware of what’s happening in their backyard.


· Relevant authorities like police must be well-equipped and well-resourced so they can handle situations pragmatically.


· The Government previously promised 6 safe havens for women and children in PNG – where are they? The Government of the day must fulfil such promises for the benefit of affected victims of sorcery-related attacks.


Havens are NOT the permanent solution, but offer a duration for affected victims to find their feet and get stakeholders involved to get them securely repatriated.


In retrospect, the horrifying murders of Kepari Leniata and Helen Rumbal in 2013 highlighted the existence of the problem of sorcery violence in Papua New Guinea.


The Government responded by repealing the Sorcery Act (1971) but realized that this needed to be complemented by a more holistic and comprehensive response. 


For this reason, the Department of Justice and Attorney General, together with the Consultative Implementation and Monitoring Council and partners from the Melanesian Institute, the University of Goroka, the Australian National University (SSGM) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, recently convened in Port Moresby for a conference on overcoming sorcery-related violence.


Some of the key areas addressed included the development of an advocacy and awareness strategy, care and counselling, better pathways through the criminal justice system for cases of sorcery and witchcraft-related violence and the establishment of the PNG Human Rights Commission.


It also identified that various valuable initiatives currently providing services to victims and survivors need more support by government and other institutions.

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