Christians build aid post to help Papuan refugees

Youth group offers lifeline to those who escaped military crackdown on rebels by fleeing into a forest
Christians build aid post to help Papuan refugees

Women and children rest after fleeing their homes following the deployment of police and military personnel to Nduga district in Indonesia's Papua province, to hunt members of the military wing of the Free Papua Movement that claimed responsibility for killing 20 workers on Dec. 2, 2018. (Photo is supplied)

Christian youths in Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua have built an aid post to help more than a thousand Papuan villagers hiding in local forests after fleeing fighting between soldiers and separatists who killed a group of workers in December.

At least 780 families or 1,500 people have fled their homes, according to Reverend Benny Giay of the Synod of Christian Churches in Papua.

Fearing for their safety, they left after police and military personnel were sent to Nduga district to hunt members of the military wing of the Free Papua Movement, which claimed responsibility for killing 20 workers on Dec. 2.

Most of them had been employed by the state-owned contractor Istaka Karya to build a 275-kilometer road in the province as part of President Joko Widodo's signature trans-Papua road project.

Calling themselves the Christian Youth's Solidarity for Nduga, the group established the aid post on Jan. 5 and said they plan to keep it open until Jan. 20 while supplies last.

It is located at the headquarters of the Evangelical Church of Indonesia in the provincial capital of Jayapura.

"The refugees are still living in makeshift huts and their health is deteriorating. Many are suffering from malnutrition. Three children have already died because of this," Alfonsa Jumkon Wayap, the group's secretary, told ucanews.com.

"We also have pregnant teenagers who are in dire need of basic necessities, clothes and medical assistance," he added.

Wayap, who also serves as chairman of the local commissariat of Catholic Youth, an umbrella organization of Catholic politicians and cadres, said he sent letters to seven parishes in Jayapura deanery in early January seeking donations.

"I handed the letters directly to parish priests, in the hope that parishioners would make contributions and have them sent here," he said.

Yendinus Mabel, the group's chairman and head of the youth wing of the Evangelical Church of Indonesia, said he had organized a prayer gathering on Jan. 13 in Sentani sub-district "as part of our efforts to raise money and collect aid for our brothers and sisters in Nduga district."

All of the aid will be distributed to the refugees despite geographical complications, he said.

"The trip from Jayapura to [Nduga district] is pretty difficult. The area can only be reached via Jayawijaya district. It takes about 45 minutes by plane; otherwise, it's a three-day walk," he added.

Ester Haluk, from the youth wing of the Kingmi Gospel Tabernacle Church, said the aid post "is important to ease refugees' burden and their trauma."

Papua has been plagued by a separatist conflict since the former Dutch colony was incorporated into Indonesia after a widely criticized U.N.-backed referendum in 1969.

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"As human beings, they want to feel safe and make a living," she said.

One of the refugees, 16-year-old Inambo Tabuni, arrived in the Jayawijaya district capital of Wamena on Jan. 9.

He fled his parents' home in Yal sub-district as soon as the police and military launched their assault on rebels in the area, he said.

"I ran to the forest. I tried to survive with whatever I had. Some refugees are staying in huts, some in caves," he said, adding they are scattered in small groups, each consisting of around 10 people.

"We suffer a lot. It's like we're squatting in someone else's place," he said.

"We just want to live peacefully in our own villages."

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