A Papuan student advocacy group has called for the establishment of a future Aotearoa New Zealand scholarship for West Papuans to replace a controversial Indonesian-funded programme that left many students stranded this year with incomplete studies.
The call has been made by the Papuan Students Association Oceania (PSAO) as a cohort of students celebrated the graduation of two commercial pilots this month.
They also marked the success of fundraising and pastoral support for students who remained in New Zealand to complete their studies in spite of the hardships created by a sudden loss of Papuan provincial scholarships at the end of last year.
Community, faith-based, social justice and student groups have raised more than $70,000 in relief programmes aimed at assisting with accommodation, student fees and living costs.
Speaking on behalf of PSAO, student advocate Laurens ikinia, a postgraduate communications student at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), praised the help of many New Zealand groups which have in recent months filled the gap left by the "unjust cancellation" of Papuan provincial scholarships for about 40 students.
He said in a message to support groups and political parties which have assisted that the International Alliance of Papuan Student Associations Overseas (IAPSAO) and the parents and whanau of the affected students had expressed "thank you for your kind support and solidarity, generous donation, faithful prayers and moral support during our difficult times."
Ikinia said that out of the 41 affected students, 12 had been forced to return to West Papua for several reasons.
"The remaining 28 students who are currently studying at different tertiary institutions and one student at a high school have benefited from [New Zealanders'] generous support. All of them have gratefully expressed their gratitude and aroha," he said.
"We sincerely thank you for being part of our life's journey through the unprecedented struggle that we have faced. We will remember and cherish them for our lifetime."
The message was conveyed to New Zealand while students were marking the success of Papuans Stevi Yikwa and Logi Karuri gaining their commercial pilot's certificates at the Ardmore Flying School near Auckland.
Eight students who have completed their carpentry course at Palmerston North polytech UCOL have also been granted work visas through Pro-Construction in Manawat?.
Other students are at AUT, Canterbury University, IPU New Zealand, Massey University, Otago University, Unitec, Victoria University of Wellington and Waikato University.
As well as support from Labour and Green MPs, the students have been helped with fundraising efforts by the All Saints Anglican Food Bank, Auckland Central Parish of the Methodist Church, Church Unlimited, Dominican Sisters, Fielding Activate Church, Grace City Church (Palmerston North), Indonesian Catholic Community (Auckland), Indonesian Christian Community (Pamerston North), Onehunga Food Bank, Pax Christi Aotearoa, PNG community in Palmerston North, Rotuman Community Centre and Wh?nau Hub, Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions, West Papua Action, West Papua Movement Aotearoa and many others.
The Papuans have also been boosted by support from AUT Melanesian Wantoks, New Zealand International Students Association (NZISA), New Zealand Union of Students Association (NZUSA) and Taura Pasifika
Scholarships next step
However, Ikinia said the next challenge was to try to establish future scholarships for indigenous Papuans in New Zealand similar to those offered for Timorese-Leste and Pacific Islands students.
The Papua provincial government's Foreign Scholarship programme introduced by Governor Lukas Enembe in recent years will wind up by the end of 2022.
Ikinia said one of the key factors in the ending of the scholarship was the loss of the governor's independent authority over education funds under Indonesia's controversial Special Autonomy Law (OTSUS) volume ll in the Melanesian provinces. Also Governor Enembe's second term is due to end by the end of 2023.
Commentators are warning that there will be "political and bureaucratic instability" in Papua due to the unpopular establishment of three new provinces that is being widely resisted by Papuan civil society.
Papuan students who are studying in New Zealand who are not on the scholarship termination list will still face uncertainty for the future.
The students are appealing to MPs and political party leaders, NGOs, churches, community groups, iwi, unions and other stakeholders to join their appeal for annual indigenous Papuan student scholarships.
More information: Laurens Ikinia (PSAO student advocate): firstname.lastname@example.org