The Indonesian repatriation programme for Indonesian nationals originally from Papua and West Papua provinces but now living and resident in neighbouring Papua New Guinea (PNG) accelerated in November with the arrival of 311 returnees in their home country.
As part of the ‘100 day programme’ of the new ‘United Indonesia’ government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, sworn in October, the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs (Deplu) working in conjunction with the Coordinating Ministry of People’s Affairs, the Department of Home Affairs, the Indonesian Air Force, the Provincial governments of Papua and West Papua as well as the Indonesian Embassy in the PNG capital Port Moresby and the PNG Government, 311 Indonesian nationals living in PNG were repatriated last November.
In two separate flights on Indonesian Air Force planes, respectively on 19 November with 141 people and on 22 November with 170 people, the returnees were flown home, accompanied by the Indonesian Ambassador to PNG, Mr. Bom Soerjanto, and other Indonesian officials.
All people who returned from PNG had agreed to be repatriated on their own free will and as such their arrival was widely covered by the Indonesian print and broadcast media.
The Deputy Governor of Papua Province together with officials from the national government in Jakarta and local government officials welcomed the returnees who were afterwards taken to their temporary accommodation pending their ultimate transfer to their own home villages of origin.
The returnees said that they all hoped to be reunited with their extended families in the two provinces of Papua and West Papua and to find work to rebuild their lives in their home regions. The national government has promised to try to provide jobs through the national work stimulus programme, but its implementation depends on the administration of the local district (regency).
Many of the returnees had lived for decades in PNG, often on the instigation of the rebel Free Papua Movement / OPM (Organisasi Papua Merdeka) who told them to flee to PNG claiming that the Government of the Republic of Indonesia was suppressing them.
Under the returnees there were some original OPM activists who were initially afraid to return to Indonesia for fear of persecution. However, after seeing that Indonesia had developed into a vibrant and stable democracy with a strong economy, former OPM activists now believe that they can make a better contribution to their future at home rather living in exile in neighbouring PNG. Furthermore, the newly created provinces of Papua and West Papua had been given special autonomy to look after their own special interests and make their own policies.
Many returnees said that they had been living under poor conditions in PNG and often had no stable jobs, just living and working as landless labourers for little or no real reward and were not able to provide for a good education of their children. Some had in fact been living illegally in PNG and all said that they were missing their families back home.
About 25,000 Indonesian nationals originally from the provinces of Papua and West Papua are registered in PNG, but it is estimated that another 19,000 are living in PNG unregistered.
The process of organised repatriation started in 2007, starting with identifying those in the PNG who are eligible and willing to return home voluntarily. The Indonesian Embassy in Port Moresby has already received thousands of applications for repatriation.
It is planned to bring this year 644 people home. Those who wish to return home to Indonesia but who have not their own means to do so will be assisted according to available funding, but all who can return home using their own means will be made very welcome and assisted accordingly. (Source: Indonesian Embassy)