Overcoming trauma, New Zealand Papuan students face a new challenge
SPECIAL REPORT: By Mary Argue in Masterton
Screams erupted as the sound of gunfire ricocheted around the open-air market. People ran.
It was bloody.
“I have seen armed violence with my own eyes,” says Laurens Ikinia.
“It was just crazy.”
Ikinia was still a child when he saw Indonesian security forces open fire at a market in Wamena, the largest town in the highlands of the Baliem Valley in West Papua.
He says it was a massacre. It was later recognized as the Wamena Incident of 2003 (or Peristiwa Wamena 2003 in Bahasa Indonesia).
What began as a raid on an armory led to a two-month operation by the Indonesian army and national police. Thousands of villagers have been displaced, civilians killed.
It was a response to growing cries for West Papua independence.
A bit of healing in NZ
The trauma of that day is hard, Ikinia says, but in recent years studying in New Zealand, he has experienced some healing.
Ikinia is one of 125 West Papuan students in Aotearoa who arrived in 2015 and 2016 on a scholarship to study abroad.
He aspires to write Pasifika stories, about people and places largely ignored by international media.
He is about to complete a Masters in Communication at Auckland University of Technology.
However, the domino effect of legislative changes in Jakarta means the 27-year-old stands to lose everything.
A few years before the violence in Wamena, the governor of the province of Papua, Lukas Enembe, set up a scholarship program allowing Papuans to study abroad.
Investment in indigenous human resources relied on special self-reliance funds granted by Jakarta, but employed at the governor’s discretion.
“It was inspired thinking on his part,” says Professor David Robie, retired director of the Pacific Media Center and editor of Asia-Pacific Report (APR).
“Get them educated outside of West Papua, outside of Indonesia, and come back with new ideas.”
But in 2021, the money has dried up.
During a 20-year legislative review, Indonesia’s central government passed a bill ratifying sweeping amendments to the Special Home Rule Law, diverting money and authority from the provinces.
Despite widespread opposition from West Papuans and calls for an independence referendum instead, funds supporting several provincial programs, including scholarships, were allocated elsewhere.
The fallout for students abroad arrived in December.
A letter to the Indonesian Embassy with a list of names – 39 students in New Zealand and dozens more overseas were to be sent home.
A translation of the letter states that underachieving students and those who did not complete their studies within the stipulated time would be repatriated by December 31, 2021.
Ikinia’s name is on the list.
“It makes no sense at all,” he says.
“Based on my background, I was one of the fastest to complete the program.”
He says all postgraduates have been given a three month thesis extension due to covid disruptions.
“I’m about to finish.”
He says the decision to recall students is based on incorrect data held by the Office of the Provincial Government Human Resources Department (HRDB).
Many phone calls
“We had several phone calls. It seems that the people in the department do not hold the data according to the latest results.
“It is totally false. I didn’t start my master’s in 2016.”
It’s politics, says Yan Wenda, president of the Papuan Students Association of Oceania and a postgraduate student at the University of Otago.
“The central government in Jakarta changed the law without any intervention from the provincial government.
“They did the review and in some areas changed the way they handled money between provinces and districts.
“It affects students studying abroad.”
He says calls to the office confirmed it.
“The money is not there”
“[They said] ‘the money is not here. It’s not happening for you guys, you’ll have to go home. ‘”
He says that not only have successful students been recalled, but also that the stipend for others has ceased.
“As students, we are desperate to pay our rent. We haven’t had a benefit for two months.
“That’s why we have to talk about it.
“We have been victims of this change.
A public statement issued on January 27 by the new International Alliance of Papuan Students Abroad Associations (IAPSAO) urged the Indonesian government to heed the rights of Papuans to obtain quality education.
Wenda and the student presidents of the United States and Canada – where 81 students were recalled, Russia, Germany and Japan signed it.
Sustainability of Governor’s Policy
They requested that the 10% fund allocation for the education sector be returned to the Papua Provincial Government “for the continuity and sustainability of the Governor’s policy to develop Papuan human resources”.
“Don’t kill Papuan human resources with political politics anymore.”
The students have since demanded that the Indonesian Embassy facilitate a dialogue with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
“It’s a really sad development,” says Professor Robie.
“Everything is political in Jakarta. It is about self-determination, about denying the rights of Melanesians in the two provinces of Papua to define their own future.
He says the Jakarta government is not comfortable with scholarships and the premise of repatriation was baseless.
“They are trying to limit the rights of Papuan students to study abroad.
“What has fundamentally changed is this (provincial) autonomy, this right to send these students where they want to go.
“These decisions are no longer in their hands.”
After APR reported on the matter, Dr Robie received a letter from the Indonesian Embassy, saying she was “appalled by the unsubstantiated claims” made on the regional website.
The letter stated that the Indonesian government is committed to ensuring the right to education for all Indonesian citizens.
In response to questions from Times-Age the embassy refuted claims that the repatriation of students was politically motivated and said the HRDB does not recall students based on academic performance alone.
The duration of the studies and the disciplinary record of the students were also taken into account.
A spokesperson said he could not comment on the accuracy of the information used to call back the students. However, they said the decision was the result of a thorough evaluation by the bureau.
Granted adjustments made
They denied that cuts to the Special Papuan Self-Reliance Fund were responsible, but acknowledged that adjustments had been made to the “budget system”.
In response to requests for dialogue with the President:
“[We] duly engaged and in coordination with the students concerned, the student coordinator, student organizations and the Papua Provincial Government to further discuss the matter under consideration.
Wenda and Ikinia say scholarship students around the world are united in their position, they will not return home.
“We claim our rights to education. We have no political agenda,” says Ikinia.
“The government claims that we have a hidden political agenda, this is totally false and unacceptable. We have always participated in events organized by the Indonesian Embassy. »
When Indonesia held a Pacific Expo in Auckland in 2019, Papuan students actively participated in the event. Most Papuan students participated as local ambassadors to accompany diplomats and delegations from the Pacific.
“I myself served as President of the Indonesian Students Association at Palmerston North and at the same time Vice President of Indonesian Students in New Zealand in 2018-19.”
Ikinia says West Papuans have become a minority in their own country and the suffering is not an anomaly.
“In New Zealand I realized how others could treat us, like family,” he says.
“This is the treatment we should be getting from the Indonesian government.”
He thinks coming to New Zealand is about more than academic achievement.
“It’s part of the journey to find the potential in my life. And it’s part of healing from trauma.
He says the New Zealand government is able to help students by recognizing their Pasifika status.
“We are not Asians, we are Melanesians.
“We know that New Zealand is a generous country that helps minority groups. We hope that during this difficult time, the New Zealand government will open its arms and include us in its Pacific family.
Marie Argue is a reporter for the Wairarapa Times-Age. Republished with permission.