Indonesian migration fuels tensions in Papua -activists

Indonesian migration fuels tensions in Papua -activists

Reuters, 13 August 2010


A daily influx of non-indigenous Indonesian migrants into Papua is fuelling tension in Indonesia's politically sensitive east, Papuan activists and researchers said on Thursday.

Resource-rich but sparsely populated Papua, Indonesia's largest province neighbouring Papua New Guinea, was given limited self-rule under special autonomy laws after a heavy military presence failed to crush a decades-old separatist movement.

A unit of Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold runs the huge Grasberg mine in Papua, providing jobs and attracting ancilliary businesses.

Thanks to the commodities boom and plans to invest in agriculture and resources projects in Papua, a growing number of Indonesian migrants -- mostly Muslims from wealthier islands such as Java or Sulawesi -- are moving to majority-Christian Papua, fuelling social tension, said Frederika Korain from the Office of Justice and Peace, a rights group linked to the Catholic Church.

"It's really a disaster. Around 1,000 to 5,000 migrants enter the region every week. It is changing the demography in Papua," she said, adding that a growing number of business-owners and political party officials in Papua were migrants.

Victor Mambor, editor of Papuan newspaper Jubi, said hundreds of ethnic Papuan languages could disappear because of the growing influence of non-indigenous languages.

Brigham Golden, a Columbia university anthropologist specialising in Papua, said some violence in the region that is often branded separatist is, in fact, a cultural reaction to the growing political and economic power of newcomers.

"This is the only place in Indonesia where every store is onwed by a non-local. Papuans just don't have capital," he said.

Teuku Faizasyah, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said he could not confirm the migration figures quoted by the activists but said that Indonesians were free to move wherever they like in the archipelago.

"Likewise, many Papuans move to other places. We don't employ any state-sponsored migration policy," he said at a panel discussion hosted by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club.