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Church leaders want more protection for native Papuans

Development in Indonesia's poorest province is only really benefiting a growing migrant population

Church leaders want more protection for native Papuans

Indigenous Papuans in Sorong, West Papua province, commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day on Aug. 8. (Photo supplied by Pusaka)

Church leaders and activists in Indonesia's restive Papua province have called on the government to control an influx of migrants and focus on the development of indigenous people.

Although there has been progress in developing the province under President Joko Widodo, which has included the construction of roads, ports, airports and the opening of plantation projects, indigenous Papuans are still shackled by poverty, they said.

Benefits from those projects are being felt more by migrants than local people, they added.

"The president has often visited Papua and encouraged development but that does not answer the needs of indigenous Papuans," Father Anselmus Amo, who heads Merauke Archdiocese's Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission, told ucanews.com on Sept. 12.

At the last census in 2010, indigenous Papuans comprised 49 percent of the province's 2.8 million population. However, that ratio has declined, with the migrant population growing at a rate of 10.8 percent per year compared with the native Papuan population growth rate of 1.8 percent.

Since 2002, Jakarta has disbursed US$45.1 million to support special autonomy status in Papua. However, Father Amo said no specific steps have been taken to protect indigenous people.

It is also the poorest out of 34 provinces in a country where more than a quarter of the population, most of them indigenous people, are living below the poverty line.

Father Amo said the government should look at controlling the influx of outsiders because they now not only dominate the local economy but also local administration.

"We continue to push for positive policies — for example, to allow only Papuans to be civil servants," he said.

"There must also be a provision for a percentage of people born and raised in Papua to be employed in companies. It must be done so that people think twice before coming to Papua." 

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Bishop John Philip Saklil of Timika said programs previously geared toward indigenous Papuans, such as education and healthcare, need to be bolstered.

"Those in need of help first are indigenous Papuans," news portal tabloidjubi.com quoted him as saying.

Yosafat Leonard Franky, spokesman of Pusaka, a nongovernmental organization focusing on indigenous people's rights, said new infrastructure and the opening of various plantations have not brought much change for indigenous communities.

"They do not even get fair compensation for their lands," he told ucanews.com.

Rev. Socrates Sofyan Nyoman, a prominent Protestant figure in Papua, said Jakarta risked stoking separatist sentiments further by not looking out for native people's needs. "If there is no change from one regime to another, resistance will continue," he said.

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