Minister Contradicts President; Says Papua Transmigration Will Continue

JUNE 07, 2015

Jakarta. An Indonesian minister has countered President Joko Widodo’s declaration that the controversial transmigration program to Papua province will be stopped, saying instead that, if anything, it will be expanded.

Marwan Jafar, the minister for transmigration, said on Sunday that the program – in which often impoverished families are given land and money to relocate from densely populated areas, primarily Java but also Bali, to other islands – had proved “a success” in Merauke, a city near Indonesia’s border with Papua New Guinea.

“Merauke can be considered a border region that has been successful in implementing the transmigration program and developing agricultural land in eastern Indonesia,” Marwan told reporters in Jakarta, as quoted by Republika.

He declared Merauke “heaven for transmigrants,” with an estimated 275,000 people having moved there since Indonesia’s annexation of West Papua in 1969 – often to the detriment of the indigenous population, who accuse the newcomers of a callous disregard for their customs and traditions, destroying the environment, and keeping the locals economically and socially subjugated.

Joko, at a gathering with prominent community leaders in Jakarta on Thursday, announced that his administration would end the transmigration program to Papua, in recognition of the local population’s long-held grievances.

“The government will stop transmigration to Papua because it has caused too much social envy,” he said in a statement issued by a spokesman, Teten Masduki.

Joko “has already asked the governor of Papua to halt the program,” Teten added.

Marwan, apparently, did not get the message, saying that the program would be ramped up in support of the government’s plan to develop 1.2 million hectares of rice fields in the region, under the Merauke Integrated Rice Estate project.

“If this program succeeds, there will be a lot of development that will change the face of this region of eastern Indonesia,” he said.

It was not clear if he was speaking literally; indigenous Papuans, who are vastly outnumbered by transmigrants, have long alleged that the transmigration program is an attempt to wipe out their numbers, in what human rights activists call a slow-motion genocide.

To support the anticipated surge in newcomers, Marwan said his ministry planned to build more transmigrant settlements. These townships are often carved out of indigenous land, giving rise to conflicts, sometimes deadly, between the indigenous and transmigrant communities.

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