The Secretariat of Justice and Peace (SKP in Indonesian) of the Catholic Church throughout Papua says 46,926 civilians were displaced from their villages due to armed conflict and urges the government to return the refugees to their hometowns. The urge was conveyed through the Pastoral Appeal of the SKP of the Catholic Church throughout Papua issued in Sorong, West Papua Province, on 12 October 2023. The pastoral call was signed by the Director of SKPKC Fransiscan Papua Yuliana Langowuyo, Director of SKP Diocese of Agats RD Linus Dumatubun, Head of SKP Diocese of Timika Saul Wanimbo, Director of SKPKC OSA Christus Totus Papua RP Heribertus Lobya OSA, Head of SKP Diocese of Manokwari Sorong RD Izaak Bame, and Secretary of the KPKC Commission of Jayapura Diocese Elias Gobay. The urge came after visiting refugees from Maybrat in Sorong Regency. (see photo/ SKP-Papua).
Moreover, the Cenderawasih Papua Catholic Student Association (MKC Papua) has called upon the Papuan Government, the Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI/Konferensi Waligereja Indonesia), and bishops across Papua to take proactive measures to address the dire situation of refugees in Papua. The appeal was made following a discussion regarding the evolving situation in Papua, held in Tomohon, North Sulawesi, on 17 October 2023.
Nicolaus Huby, the Chairman of MKC Papua, emphasised the need for the Catholic church leadership to acknowledge and respond to the critical conditions in Papua. Huby expressed concerns that the current situation, marked by escalating violence and armed conflicts between the Indonesian National Army/Indonesian National Police (TNI/Polri) and the West Papua National Liberation Army/Free Papua Organization (TPNPB/OPM) from 2018 to 2023, requires urgent attention.
According to reports by humanitarian activists, a significant number of residents have been displaced from their homes. For instance, approximately 674 residents from Muara Bontoh (Yahukimo) were forced to flee to Dekai, while 2,252 people in Kiwirok and surrounding areas sought refuge in the Oksibil and neighbouring Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, over 37,000 Nduga residents from various districts had to leave their homes and relocate to Asmat Regency, Mimika Regency, and Jayawijaya Regency. Additionally, around 1,000 residents of Intan Jaya fled to Nabire Regency, Paniai Regency, and Mimika Regency, while approximately 6,000 Maybrat residents sought refuge in Kmurkek, Sorong Regency, and Sorong City.
The issue of refugees has been compounded by instances of violence, including the shooting of a Catholic catechist in October 2020 by the Indonesian military. Despite claims by the government and security forces that refugees have returned to their hometowns, reports from SKP in Papua and Komnas HAM suggest that many are still displaced. For example, there are still 5,296 people residing in refugee camps in Maybrat.
These refugees have been enduring difficult living conditions in overcrowded settings. They have called for assistance in providing health and education for their children, as their current resources are insufficient. Above all, they express their desire to return to their hometowns, provided that the military presence in East Aifat is reduced to ensure peace and safety.
The plight of these refugees has been compared to that of Joseph and Mary, who were forced to leave their hometown. Pope Francis has drawn parallels between the present-day refugees and the biblical narrative, highlighting the need for empathy and assistance.
Cenderawasih Papua Catholic Students have urged the Catholic church, the Indonesian government, and relevant authorities to take immediate action by:
- Facilitating the repatriation of refugees to their hometowns through meaningful consultations with internally displaced Papuans.
- Ensuring the safety of returning refugees and preventing intimidation.
- Providing reparations or compensation for all losses suffered by internally displaced persons, including physical, property, psychological, and mental losses.
- Guaranteeing basic rights for refugees before their return, including temporary shelters, food, healthcare, and access to education.
- Allowing humanitarian assistance from other organizations to reach internally displaced people.
- Halting military operations in Papua.
- Ending the dispossession of customary land rights of the Papuan people.
- Taking responsibility for resolving human rights violations in Papua.