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West Papua: Ongoing Demographic Catastrophe and Consequences

Updated on October 23, 2015
rohanfelix profile image

Rohan supports West Papuan independence from Indonesia. He is a writer based in Chennai, India.


Current Population and Projection

The Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua, which together make up the western half of the island of New Guinea, are undergoing rapid demographic transformation. In the 1971 census, Papuans constituted 96 percent of the region’s population. Now, Indonesians (mostly ethnic Javanese) make up over half the population; native Melanesians have been reduced to a minority of roughly 48 percent of the population according to the 2010 census.

From 2000 to 2010, West Papua witnessed the highest population growth rate in all of Indonesia – a whopping 64 percent. The second highest was 20 percent in distant West Java.

The Indonesian population grew by an annual rate of 11 percent, whereas that of native Papuans increased by only 2 percent. If these growth rates are maintained, by 2020 Indonesians will make up 71 percent of the population and Papuans a mere 29 percent.

Systematic Genocide of Papuans

Since the Indonesian occupation began in 1963, there have been over 500,000 unnatural deaths of Papuans, according to an article in the Griffith Journal of Law and Human Dignity – all this during a warless period. Numerous videos taken on mobile phone cameras and smuggled out of the country have emerged on social media, showing the brutal repression of peaceful protests for freedom, cruel and arbitrary torture, imprisonment, and the killing of innocent Papuans by Indonesian forces. However, it is notable that foreign journalists are not permitted into Papua, so the full extent of abuses has yet to be ascertained.

Some of the atrocities blamed on the Indonesian authorities include systematic neglect, kidnapping, murder, violent raids on tribal villages, rape, feticide and mutilation. The population control program in the region is targeted almost exclusively at native Papuans.

It has also been alleged that HIV has been introduced to remote Papuan villages by soldiers who bring HIV-infected prostitutes from Java with the intent of bribing tribal chieftains into surrendering ancestral land. It is notable that among all the provinces of Indonesia, Papua has the highest number of HIV-infected individuals and an infection rate that is 20 times higher than Indonesia’s national average.

Cultural Erosion

Native culture has steadily eroded over the 50 years of occupation. As more and more migrants have poured in from an overwhelmingly Muslim Indonesia, the religious landscape has inevitably changed. Minarets of mosques are now quite ubiquitous in the larger towns of the region, such as Jayapura, Manokwari and Sorong. Singing traditional hymns is considered anti-patriotic, and wearing grass skirts and penis kotekas, as has been the tradition since the Stone Age, is now banned. There is no mention in school textbooks of the rich culture of West Papua.

Migration from Other Regions

The leading cause for the exponential population growth of non-natives is blamed on state-sponsored migration from other regions of Indonesia like Java and Bali. The poor who live in Indonesia’s exploding cities are offered free passage to Papua, and once there, are provided with tax breaks for setting up businesses. The Indonesian administration maintains that migration into the provinces of West Papua and Papua is beneficial, as these provinces have a lower population density relative to the rest of Indonesia, and a growing population will ensure optimum exploitation of the region’s rich resources.

However, native Papuans receive no benefits from the opening up of the region, and in fact make up the poorest section of the population. Their basic necessities such as medicine, infrastructure and food security are systematically neglected, and the money flowing into the region from resource extraction is used for further militarization.

Consequences of Changing Demographics

The region’s population change has led to several consequences.

As the percentage of migrants increases, so does Indonesia’s hold on Papua. For example, if a referendum were to be held – as the natives have long demanded – it is likely that the large migrant population would vote to stay part of Indonesia, as it would be in their economic interests.

As native Papuans become a minority in their own land, their diverse cultures and languages face extinction. Tribes that once lived in isolation in the lowland jungles and on the highlands are now forced to face the reality of their ancestral lands being taken over by military might. This land is then handed over to multinational companies from Australia, the United States, Malaysia, South Korea and Great Britain to extract timber, oil, copper and gold. Unless these nations, and the U.N., which has remained uncharacteristically mute on the issue, decide to break their silence and complicity in the genocide, or are forced to do so by mounting public pressure, the extinction of the rich West Papuan heritage is imminent.


Do you support the cause of independence for West Papua?

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    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      This needs to come to the attention of the United Nations.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      It is shocking that the military is being allowed to do as it pleases by the Indonesian authorities. And the silence of Asean nations and world powers is shameful.

    • rohanfelix profile imageAUTHOR

      Rohan Rinaldo Felix 

      3 years ago from Chennai, India

      Ideally the UN should, but it is turning a blind eye to the happenings here...

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Is there no powerful country or organisation that will address the unlawful annexation and systematic invasion of this Melanesian land by its Asian neighbor?

    • Kejanny profile image


      3 years ago from Papua New Guinea

      Genocide in West Papua is one of the greatest human rights abuses that has been going on for more than fifty years. The world has turned a blind eye to it.


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