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Church calls for return of Papuans displaced by conflict

Christian groups refute government claims that all refugees have returned home in Christian-majority region
Church leaders are seen with people displaced by conflict in Indonesia's Papua region during a recent visit

Church leaders are seen with people displaced by conflict in Indonesia's Papua region during a recent visit. (Photo supplied)

Published: October 16, 2023 11:59 AM GMT
Updated: October 16, 2023 12:00 PM GMT

Catholic Church leaders have called on Indonesian government to ensure safe and dignified return of thousands of people displaced by conflict in the Christian-majority Papua region.

“The central and local governments must return the Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] to their homelands by first conducting meaningful consultations,” the Justice and Peace Secretariat [SKP] of four dioceses – Jayapura, Agats, Manokwari-Sorong and Timika – and Franciscans and Augustinians Order said in a joint statement on Oct. 15.

“SKPs in Papua consider that the active role of the government is very slow and seems to cover up the IDPs issues in Papua,” the statement said.

In the statement, the dioceses have challenged the government’s claim in media reports that “the refugees had returned to their home villages.”

“According to SKP's findings, there are still many IDPs who have not returned to their homelands,” they said.

They cited the situation in Maybrat Regency, West Papua province where the SKP activists recently visited.

“There are 5,296 people in Maybrat still remaining in temporary accommodations,” they said.

The displaced people were among more than 45,000 people who fled their homes due to conflict in 2018-2023 between the Indonesian security forces and the rebel group, National Liberation Army (TPN) of the Free Papua Organization (OPM).

Most of the refugees are from the Nduga Regency. About 37,000 people fled to Asmat Regency, Mimika Regency and Jayawijaya Regency soon after the killing of construction workers by a separatist group in December 2018.

Father Izhaak Bame, chairman of SKP Manokwari-Sorong Diocese said he met the refugees facing many difficulties in refugee camps.

“In one house, 4 to 5 families are living, while the boarding houses had up to 12 families,” he said.

A refugee who asked not to be named said, “We hope that our children's health and education needs will be addressed.”

“We have been gardening to meet our daily needs, but it is not enough to pay our children's education costs,” he said.

Another refugee said: “We want to return to our hometown and want to live like the normal situation before, live in peace.”

“All parties need to sit down and talk so that there can be peace. Our Maybrat culture is that if there is a problem, whether small or big, we have to sit down and talk until there is peace. Problems must be discussed, not ignored,” the refugee said.

Papua has witnessed deadly conflicts since the 1960s after Indonesia annexed the territory following the end of Dutch colonial rule. A referendum that followed was allegedly rigged to keep Papua a part of Indonesia.

The consequent armed insurgency for independence and military crackdown left thousands dead and tens of thousands displaced over the past decades.

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