Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta – The governor of Indonesia's Papua province has slammed a central government minister's comments suggesting that Indonesia's controversial transmigration program should be expanded in the tense region.
Papua Governor Lukas Enembe believes that the transmigration program has marginalized indigenous Papuans in their ancestral homes, according to a spokesman.
"Papua now has more migrants rather than indigenous Papuans and indigenous Papuans are still left behind," Lamadi de Lamato, the governor's spokesman, told ucanews.com Monday.
He was responding to comments by Minister of Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Marwan Jafar, who told reporters Sunday that Merauke, a city in Papua, was "heaven for transmigrants" and that the transmigration program there may actually be ramped up.
Jafar himself had been responding to comments from President Joko Widodo, who had earlier declared that transmigration to Papua province would be terminated.
Government statistics found that indigenous Papuans made up only half of the province's population of 2.8 million in 2010.
Lamadi de Lamato said many Indonesian migrants – often from Java, the country's most populous island – have often thrived after migrating to Papua.
"But this situation will create a social gap," he said. "We don't want this to happen. The transmigration program gives nothing to indigenous Papuans."
Instead, the spokesman said, Papua's governor wants to develop a local version of the program, which would benefit indigenous Papuans.
"It means that indigenous Papuans will be empowered with a method that is similar to the transmigration program. They are given lands and offered an education."
Indonesia's transmigration program began under the former Dutch colonial authorities, sending often low-income families from densely populated areas to less populated ones across the archipelago.
In an interview Monday, Natalius Pigai from the National Commission on Human Rights, said the program has been bad for indigenous Papuans.
"I want to highlight that migrants in Papua, together with police personnel and soldiers, have created an exclusive and discriminative character which tends to hate Melanesians," he told ucanews.com.
Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the transmigration program has effectively been a large-scale land-grab.
The national government, he said, must work to ensure that Papuans are no longer economically marginalized. "Protect their rights and stop impunity. Respect their history and culture," he said.