40 years in exile – West Papuan refugees in PNG

In early April 2024, more than 10,000 West Papuans residing in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) commemorated the 40th anniversary of their displacement since 1984. Festivities unfolded peacefully at Iowara Station in East Camp, North Flay District, with children, men, and women gathering to express gratitude to the leaders of Western Province, North Fly District, and the PNG Government for their hospitality and support since 1984.

The commemoration holds significance as it reflects upon the tragic events that prompted the mass exodus of West Papuans to PNG. The death of renowned Papuan artist and cultural leader Arnold Clemens Ap in Jayapura City on 26 April 1984, catalyzed the displacement, compelling thousands to flee to neighbouring PNG. The death of Arnold Clemens Ap and Eduard Mofu, both members of the Papuan Mambesak Band, at the hands of Indonesian security forces exacerbated the displacements. To this day, many West Papuans continue to reside along the border in PNG’s Western Province, as shown in a map published by the Indonesian magazine Tempo in 1984 (see map on top, source: Jubi). Others have settled in camps in Port Moresby, while some have established new lives in the Netherlands. Among the refugees were former university lecturers, students, and military deserters.

The sudden influx of refugees from West Papua of refugees brought new challenges to the PNG government. International organisations stepped in to overcome the humanitarian crisis with financial support. The path to citizenship for West Papuan refugees in PNG was fraught with challenges, with many waiting up to 30 years to attain citizenship status. The resilience and contributions of the second generation of refugees underscore the success stories within the community, with individuals excelling in various fields, including aviation, healthcare, and journalism, in their adopted homeland of Papua New Guinea.