Forgotten People of Maybrat – A report on the humanitarian crisis in the Maybrat Regency, Papua Barat Daya Province

Update on the security situation in Maybrat

More than two years have passed since an armed group of the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) attacked a military post in the Kisor Village, Aifat Selatan District, Maybrat Regency, Papua Barat Daya Province. The event triggered massive internal displacements. According to the numbers released by Komnas HAM on 28 July 2023, a total of 5,296 IDPs continue to live in scattered accommodations in the city of Sorong without the perspective of returning to their villages.   

Updated information that reached the Human Rights Monitor in December 2023 indicates that the conflict and humanitarian situation in Maybrat has again deteriorated. First, the armed conflict situation in Maybrat throughout 2023 appeared to be under control. HRM documented two armed attacks between January and October 2023, resulting in the death of one security force officer in the Aifat Timur Tengah District. However, the TPNP intensified their attacks in late November 2023. Five security force members were killed and two injured during three armed clashes that occurred within a period of one month. A TPNPB member was reportedly killed by security forces in the neighbouring Sorong regency on 1 December 2023.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in Maybrat continues. Most villages in the Aifat Timur District and several villages in the Aifat Selatan District remain abandoned. Houses have been damaged, and personnel belongings, as well as livestock, have disappeared. The Maybrat Regent and the Maybrat Secretary have called on internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Maybrat to return to their homes or villages despite the heavy military (TNI) presence in the regency.

IDPs from Maybrat have repeatedly expressed concerns regarding the heavy presence of the police and military in their villages, creating fear among many IDPs in returning to their homes. Those who have returned to their villages stated that people were no longer able to collect food and walk freely in the forest – an important part of indigenous peoples in Maybrat to sustain their livelihoods. Moreover, the presence of the military near civilian settlements increases the risk of civilians being injured or killed during armed attacks against the security posts.

For the Aifat Timur Tengah and Aifat Selatan Districts, small and middle-size military posts with about 50 to 100 military personnel each have been set up in the midst of residential areas and villages.

1.          Military post in Sorry Village, Aifat Selatan District;

2.         Military post in Sabah, Aifat Selatan District;

3.        Military post in Tahsimara, Aifat Selatan District;

4.         Military post in Faan Kahrio, Aifat Timur Tengah District;

5.         Kamat Raya (Kamat, & Asem), Aifat Timur Tengah District (more than 100 TNI personnel);

6.         Ayata Raya (Ayata, Aikus, Aimasa, Aiwesa), Aifat Timur Tengah District (more than 100 TNI personnel).

TNI Post in Sorry Village

Allegations of forced repatriation of IDPs

The temporary regent of Myabrat, Dr.Bernhard E. Rondonuwu held a joint meeting with the district leaders, village leaders, and community leaders from the villages Sorry, Sabah, Tahsimara, and Faan Kahrio soon. The meeting came to the result that IDPs from these villages should soon be relocated. During the meeting, the community leaders expressed their desire to build paved roads, re-establish logistic distribution of basic needs, build electricity and telecommunication networks, and resume church and healthcare services.

Activists from Maybrat say that the local government’s effort to return the Maybrat IDPs to their hometowns appears forced, without sufficient effort to fulfill the rights of IDPs. According to the information received, the meeting was not followed up by concrete actions, and provisions concerning the handling of social conflicts, as stipulated in Law No. 7/2012, were neglected. Article 36, paragraph (2) of the law states that post-conflict recovery efforts shall include acts of reconciliation, rehabilitation, and reconstruction.

Activists criticise that the regional Government has failed to undertake any of these actions as of December 2023. In addition, the government has not made efforts to reduce conflict potential as stipulated in Article 9 of Law No. 7/2012. Instead, the local officials allowed increased security force presence in villages, including the occupation of residents’ homes and public facilities, such as school buildings. They argue that the repatriation as pursued by the Maybrat government violates the right of IDPs to be protected from forcible return or resettlement to a place where their life, safety, liberty, and/or health would be threatened.

The Indonesian Constitution of 1945 emphasises the provision to guarantee and uphold human rights. Article 28H paragraph (1) stipulates that “every person has the right to live in physical and spiritual prosperity, to have a place to live, and to have a good and healthy environment.” So far, the local government in Maybrat has failed to reestablish these conditions for IDPs in Maybrat. Fundamental needs and services such as safe shelter, basic healthcare, and education services remain absent in the conflict-affected districts.  

Health situation

IDPs, particularly women, children and elderly persons, are a vulnerable group that must get special attention from the state. Long distances and expensive transportation costs remain obstacles for the IDPs to access medical treatment. Internally displaced children and the elderly often experience both physical and mental health issues after being cut off from fundamental health services for more than two years.  

According to human rights defenders from Maybrat who visited IDPs in late November 2023, internally displaced children showed symptoms of malnutrition with enlarged stomachs, thin bodies, and dull skin. many suffer from prolonged acute respiratory problems. Some internally displaced pregnant women and the elderly are similarly affected by the lack of access to health facilities. This situation has resulted in an increased mortality rate among the IDP in the temporary shelters. Based on the data collected in the field, 95 IDPs passed away between September 2021 and August 2023, consisting of 16 male adults, 46 female adults, five children, and two infants/toddlers.

Education situation

Primary education is a human right. Every state must ensure minimum standards in terms of the accessibility, quality, availability, and adequacy of primary education services. Article 31, paragraph (1) of the Indonesian 1945 Constitution stipulates that “every citizen has the right to education”. The condition of education services in the Timur Aifat and Aifat Selatan districts remain alarming. Education facilities in these districts have been in these areas remain dysfunctional after the armed attack in Kisor in September 2021.

At least ten elementary schools and one junior high school in Maybrat remain abandoned. Several school buildings, such as the YPPK FAAN Kahrio Elementary School in the Faan Village, the YPPK Michael Elementary School in the Kamat Village, and the YPPK Elementary School in the Ayata Village, as well as a junior high school building in the Aifat Timur Tengah District, have been used as temporary TNI and Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) posts (see photos below). 

Military post in the YPPK FAAN Kahrio Elementary School, Faan Village

Brimob post in PPK Elementary School, Ayata Village

After being internally displaced from their villages, many parents were forced to enroll their children in new schools near their temporary living shelters. The living conditions in the overcrowded shelters are an additional challenge to most internally displaced children. The presence of internally displaced children is also posing challenges to their new schools. Some children have been traumatized after having to flee their villages. The growing number of students in classrooms has inevitable consequences for the teaching and learning process at these schools. The Maybrat District Education Office appears to ignore the educational challenges experienced by internally displaced children.

Deteriorating Economy

The attack on the military post in Kisor on 2 September 2021 had a profound and devastating impact on civil society within the Aifat Timur and Aifat Selatan regions. Residents suffered significant losses, including the destruction of their properties, homes and the violation of their fundamental rights. Many were forced into displacement and sought refuge with their relatives. In one instance, a small house accommodated five families, comprising a total of twenty individuals, encompassing both male and female adults, toddlers, babies as well as male and female teenagers.

The limited access to essential necessities has posed formidable challenges for IDPs in meeting their food requirements and other fundamental needs. Economic constraints have also disproportionately affected vulnerable segments of the population, including women, children, and the elderly, resulting in physical and psychological health issues. One IDP articulated this struggle, stating:

“It is preferable to subsist on Papeda (sago porridge) while residing in one’s abode rather than partake of bread while residing in someone else’s domicile. We abandoned our hometowns, houses, gardens, and livestock, all of which were obliterated in an instant, akin to a dream. How much longer can we endure such a life? What about the prospects of our children? We too aspire to lead a normal existence, akin to our brothers and sisters in other regions.”

To persevere and maintain their livelihoods in temporary shelters and rented bording houses, the displaced individuals, in addition to receiving assistance from their families and compassionate individuals, endeavour to cultivate crops. They make use of land lent to them by their relatives to cultivate vegetables and tubers. The garden products serve as a source of sustenance, and any surplus is often sold at the nearest market to acquire daily necessities such as salt, sugar, coffee, and cooking oil. Life in the city presents an even greater challenge for the IDPs, as every aspect of their existence necessitates the use of monetary resources, particularly when it comes to meeting the educational needs of their children. IDPs lack stable employment opportunities, relying instead on village funds and Direct Cash Assistance (BLT) to cover their rental expenses for temporary accommodations. Despite these challenges, the village fund allocated for community welfare have reportedly been reduced by 5% to fund TNI operational costs for security in conflict-ridden areas, as disclosed by local church workers.

Security Approach Disrupts Civilian Comfort

The presence of security force personnel in Maybrat, purportedly for security reasons, significantly disrupts the peace and well-being of IDPs who have returned to their villages. This unsettling situation was brought to light by the Parish of the Aifat Timur area. Community members in Fuog village in the South Aifat district complained that armed soldiers enterd the church to participate in the religious proceedings, while additional soldiers stood guard outside. A church worker explained in this regard, that “the TNI approach makes people uneasy. Every Sunday, the TNI is present and monitors the sunday worship. One must wonder, are there criminals attending the church worship?”

Villagers have also complained about soldiers harvesting crops from their gardens. According to the information received, soldiers entered the gardens without seeking permission, harvesting fish from ponds and plucking durian fruits from trees owned by residents. Some military members were watched employing machinery to draw water from the residents’ wells, leaving them perpetually dry. Consequently, nearby residents were compelled seeking clean water from distant locations.

Under the pretext of maintaining security in the Maybrat Regency, TNI troops were dispatched to occupy various villages in the districts Aifat Selatan and Aifat Timur Raya. Their presence was intended to aid residents with agricultural, educational, and healthcare needs. Instead, their presence casted a shadow of fear and curtailed the freedom of civilians who have returned to their hometowns. A villager stated “Our lives are now marred by constant vigilance, and we are no longer free to engage in activities like hunting and gardening in the forest, as every action within our villages must be reported to the military post.”

Another incident recounted by a mother from Samerakator village underscores the tense situation: “In the morning, I went to the garden with my husband, hoping to enjoy a walk before the army patrolled the forest. I went to collect Gedi leaves [a Papuan type of vegetables and we took a rest in our small hut next to the garden. When I descended from the hut, I was shocked to see three armed soldiers lying underneath the hut. Concerned for our safety, I promptly called my husband, and we hurriedly returned to the village.”

The cases paint a clear picture of how the presence of security force personnel in Maybrat has negatively impacted the lives of vilagers. Their lives have become increasingly burdened, marked by depression, and overshadowed by the constant fear. Human rights defenders represent the view that the situation also contradicts legal provisions as stipulated in Law No. 39 of 1999, Article 9, Paragraph (2), which asserts that “Everyone has the right to live in peace, security, happiness, physical and mental well-being,” and further articulated in Article 30, which guarantees “Freedom from threats to security and peace and protection from fear that may hinder or inhibit any action.”

Update on the situation, Jan. 2024

Maybrat secretary says IDPs should return home

On 11 January 2024, an important gathering took place at the Intipura Complex in Sorong Regency, Papua Barat Daya province. The event was themed “Face-to-Face Meeting of the West Papua Police Chief with the Maybrat IDP Community in the Sorong Regency,” aimed at addressing the concerns of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Maybrat and fostering dialogue between government officials and the residents.

The meeting brought together a diverse group of attendees, including military and government officials. Among those present were the Papua Barat Police Chief, Sorong District Police Chief, Sorong District Military Chief, PJ Regent of Sorong District, Maybrat Regional Secretary, and the Chairperson of the Maybrat IDPs Repatriation (see photo on top, independent HRDs). The face-to-face interaction lasted approximately three hours.

The event began with an opening speech by Mr Alowsius Saud, Chairman of the Intipura Complex RT, who served as the host for the Maybrat IDPs. He highlighted the plight of the IDPs and their need for support. Saud also appealed to the PJ Regent of Sorong to provide adequate housing assistance for the displaced residents. Members of the Maybrat IDP community spoke about the challenges they faced in terms of education. They also highlighted the ongoing presence of the police and military in their villages, creating fear among many IDPs in returning to their homes. The IDPs stated that people were no longer able to collect food and walk freely in the forest – an important part of indigenous peoples in Maybrat to sustain their livelihoods. They also highlighted the problem that schools in the villages Kamat, Faan Kahrio, and Ayata continue to be used as military posts, preventing their children from accessing basic education services in the villages.

The Papua Barat Police Chief acknowledged the gravity of the issues raised by the residents, promising that their stories would be used for evaluation purposes, even if he couldn’t provide immediate solutions. The Regent of Sorong Regency, Mr Cliff Agus Japasenang, reiterated the Maybrat people’s status as native inhabitants. He added that the local government had provided 250 million rupiahs of financial assistance to the Maybrat IDPs in Sorong in the past year. Despite the ongoing difficulties faced by many IDPs in Sorong, Maybrat Regional Secretary, Mr Ferry Taa, expressed concerns about prolonged financial aid claiming that the funds would become an incentive for IDPs not to return to their villages. Ignoring recent armed clashes resulting in the death of two military members in Maybrat in mid and late-December 2023, he claimed that the Maybrat Regency was safe, appealing to the IDPs to return to their villages.

The Face-to-Face meeting closed with a symbolic distribution of basic foodstuffs and photo sessions with the IDPs. Observers concluded that the meeting provided space for direct exchange between IDPs and Government representatives but failed to provide solutions for the ongoing challenges and concerns of the Maybrat IDP community. Statements like those brought forward by the Maybrat Regional Secretary gave the impression that the local government is uni-laterally pursuing a fast relocation of all IDPs before the upcoming presidential elections on 14 February 2024 instead of finding sustainable solutions for a safe return of Maybrat IDPs to their villages.

Update for the Aifat Timur Tengah and Aifat Selatan Regions

In Aifat Selatan, life in the villages is gradually returning to normalcy. However, access to the forest remains restricted due to security concerns. Approximately 95 % of the community members have returned to their hometowns. The remaining 5% still displaced in the villages Tahsimara and Foug Raya. The primary challenges faced by the community include health issues and the lack of adequate healthcare services in the villages. When individuals fall ill, they often have to seek treatment in the town of Kumurkek or Sorong. In some cases, residents are compelled to visit the military posts in their respective villages, where soldiers provide limited healthcare services to the community.

In the Aifat Timur Tengah region, there are four districts,, each of them facing unique circumstances:

1. In Aifat Timur Tengah, approximately half of the population has returned to their hometowns. Public institutions like churches and schools have yet to fully resume normal operations. Some school buildings are still being utilized as military posts, and access to the forest remains restricted for security reasons. Spiritual activities, such as Sunday worship, continue to be held in people’s homes since church buildings were damaged during the conflict. Furthermore, there has been no official permission from the bishop to establish a church in the Greater East Aifat area.

2. Aifat Timur District: Residents have not yet returned to their hometowns

3. Aifat Timur Jauh District: Residents have not yet returned to their hometowns

4. Aifat Timur Selatan District: Residents have not yet returned to their hometowns

Conclusion

This report aims to provide an account of the conditions endured by internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maybrat. The findings can be summarized as follows:

  1. Following the Kisor attack on 2 September 2021, ongoing security operations in the Maybrat Regency have been conducted to apprehend armed groups affiliated with the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) in the Aifat Selatan District and Aifat Timur Raya District. Security operations have resulted in the involuntary displacement of at least 5,296 IDPs in the region. The vast majority of them are indigenous Papuans;
  2. The civilians hailing from the Aifat Selatan and Aifat Timur Raya areas have been left traumatized by the ongoing conflict. The heavy security force presence in many villages across the Maybrat Regency is significantly disrupting the people’s everyday life and increases the potential for armed attacks;
  3. A notable absence of humanitarian assistance is evident in the region;
  4. There is a pressing need for adequate healthcare and educational services to be provided to the affected population.
  5. Vulnerable segments of the community, including women, infants, toddlers, children, and the elderly, require specialized care and attention from the government;
  6. It is observed that various policies implemented do not align with international and national state obligations towards IDPs.

Recommendations

Recommendations for action by the central government and local government include:

  1. Ensuring the provision of security and safety assurances for IDP prior to return to their villages. Military posts should be established outside of civilian settlements to minimalise the impact of security force presence on everyday life;
  2. Immediate re-activation of schools and health facilities in Maybrat, particularly those which are being utilised as security posts;
  3. Fulfillment of the Maybrat IDPs’ fundamental rights must be prioritized before re-locating them to their villages;
  4. The Indonesian government and the local government of Maybrat should promptly address the situation of Maybrat IDPs in compliance with relevant laws and regulations. This includes adherence to the 1945 Constitution, Law No. 39 of 1999 regarding Human Rights, and Law No. 7 of 2012 concerning Social Conflict Resolution, as well as compliance with international human rights and humanitarian laws;
  5. Security forces should operate following established laws and regulations, as well as in compliance with international human rights and humanitarian laws