Ongoing armed clashes between Indonesian security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) have caused the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to rise while at the same time preventing them from safely returning to their homes. The central government continues to ignore the existence of an estimated 60,000 IDPs across West Papua; apart from initiatives by Papuan churches and some local governments to provide humanitarian aid, most IDPs remain isolated from humanitarian access. The humanitarian crisis has affected the Nduga, Puncak, Pegunungan Bintang, Yahukimo, Maybrat, and Intan Jaya regencies.
Statistical figures on armed conflict indicate that the armed conflict has aggravated in comparison to the previous year. Human Rights Monitor (HRM) documented 51 armed clashes and attacks between 1 January and 30 May 2023. The statistics on clashes are 30 % higher than in 2022, with 39 such incidents in the same period. Currently, a return of the IDPs to their homes seems unlikely in many regencies.
The most recent displacements reportedly occurred in the Regencies Nduga, Intan Jaya, and Kepulauan Yapen due to armed clashes and subsequent security raids in indigenous settlements. HRM did not receive updated information on the situation of IDPs from the Puncak Regency, which remains one of the hotspots of armed conflict in West Papua.
The re-occurrence of armed clashes between Indonesian security forces and the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in the Kenyam District, Nduga Regency, in late May 2023 reportedly caused the internal displacement of 276 indigenous Papuans from the seven districts Gearek, Pasir Putih, Wusi, Kora, Moba, Pija, dan Wosak (see photo below, source: Suara Papua) The IDPs reportedly gathered at an elementary school near the Batas Batu junction in Kenyam after security forces increased their presence in the Nugulaid Village, Kenyam District, on 26 May 2023
Security force members allegedly arrested seven people, Mr Etikius Kerebea, Mr Matius Kerebea, Mr Herman Kerebea, Mr Agotius Kerebea, Mr Jhoni Kerebea, Mr Patianus Kerebea, and Mr Pilipus Baye, in response to the clashes.
The IDP situation in Nduga had worsened already in early February 2023 after TPNPB members captured the New Zealand Pilot, Captain Philip Mark Mehrtens, in the Paro District on 7 February. About 110 indigenous families from the Paro District fled to Nduga’s largest town Kenyam in mid-February 2023. They walked from the Paro District to Kenyam for seven days. The local government confirmed a total number of 167 IDPs from Paro. Security force members reportedly evacuated eighteen IDPs from the Alama District on 20 February 2023.
The Kingmi Papua Church reported further displacements in April 2023. According to a media statement, 52 families from the districts Paro and Yuguru, as well as 66 families from the districts Mugi, Yigi, and Kroptak, sought shelter in Kenyam as the security force presence in many districts significantly increased.
Following armed clashes between Indonesian security forces and the TPNPB in Sugapa on 9, 11, 13, and 14 April 2023, a widespread security operation was reportedly launched in Intan Jaya on 11 April 2023 in the districts Sugapa, Hitadipa, and Agisiga. Three indigenous Papuans, including one pastor, were allegedly executed by security force members during the raid.
Following the raids, an unknown number of indigenous Papuans from the affected villages fled toward the Hitadipa District and neighbouring villages, which they considered safe. Others reportedly sought shelter in the surrounding forest. Further displacements were reported from the villages Mamba, Jenetapa, Bamba, and Janamba because people feared further security force raids. In total, the internal displacements have reportedly affected nineteen church congregations.
Hundreds of IDPs reportedly sought shelter in the catholic Santo Michael Church and the Catholic Bilogai Mission complex after armed clashes re-occurred in Suagapa on 24 April 2023. According to media sources, the local social agency in Intan Jaya distributed food supplies to IDPs in the villages of Bilogai and Kumbalagupa on 2 May 2023 (see photo below, source: Jubi).
TPNPB fighters reportedly raised the Morning Star flag and burnt heavy construction machinery in the Woda Village, Rainbary District, on 29 May 2023. Joint security forces raided the villages Kaonda and Rosbori, Windesi District, on 12 June 2023, as well as the Ambaidiru Village, Kosiwo District, on 16 June 2023. An unknown number of Papuans from these villages fled into the forest, fearing police repression and arbitrary arrest (see photo below, independent HRD).
HRM received updated information regarding the IDP situation in the Suru-Suru district. According to data collected in February 2022, there were 1,971 IDPs, most living in forest shelters and villages in surrounding areas that they consider “safe.” Data from May 2023 elaborates that 1,254 IDPs are members of Papuan Tabernacle Church congregations in Suru-Suru. The data indicates that 40 IDPs consisting of 16 males and 24 females, died between November 2021 and June 2023 after being displaced. Eight of the victims were minors. Twenty-nine women reportedly gave birth in IDP camps without the presence of medics between early 2022 and early 2023. Three women and four babies died during delivery.
Security forces have reportedly burnt residential houses and devastated a school, a church, and other public facilities in the Suru-Suru District. Neither education, health care, nor government offices in Suru-Suru have been functional since December 2021. If people want to return to their houses or gardens, they must report to the military first. Besides military members, several pastors, and some local government officials, the Suru-Suru District has been abandoned.
This junior high school in Suru-Suru was reportedly devastated by military members
Military members allegedly burnt residential houses in Suru-Suru to the ground
IDPs from the Suru-Suru District, Yahukimo Regency
The IDP situation in Maybrat remains tense. Most IDPs have meanwhile moved to Sorong, where they have access to healthcare, education, and other public services. According to human rights defenders from Maybrat, twenty children have reportedly died due to malnutrition since being displaced in September 2021. Ten elementary schools and one junior high school in the Aifat Timur District have been abandoned. A school in the Faan Kahrio Village and a village government office in the Sorry Village have been occupied by military members and are used as military posts.
As for other Catholic church facilities that are used as posts or TNI headquarters:
- SD YPPK Santo Mikael Kamar, Kamar Raya Village, Aifat Timur Tengah District
- Catholic Church, Faan Kahrio village, Aifat Timur Tengah District.
- YPPK Ayata Raya Elementary School, Aifat Timur Tengah District
- SMP Negri Aifat Timur, Ayata village, Aifat Timur Tengah District.
The IDPs from Maybrat live under uncertain conditions. They are reluctant to return to their villages as security force deployments and security force raids to Maybrat continue. The Maybrat interim Regent, Mr Bernard Rondonuwu, pursue plans to re-settle IDPs to their home villages against their will. Mr Rondonuwu claims the condition in Maybrat is safe. The village heads were allegedly pressured by the regent and local officials, saying they would not receive village funds and the Special Autonomy funds if IDPs did not return to their villages.
The IDPs have organised themselves but continue to live in challenging conditions. The displaced children are accommodated in one large room for learning. Their parents may live in a single rental house with 10 to 15 families. They are caught in the daily struggle between economic hardship, poor health, and the uncertainty of a return to their villages. If villagers want to visit their houses and gardens, they must report to the military.