Forgotten Promises: A former Refugee Still Struggling to Rebuild His Life

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

The unfinished house of Frederikus

Papua is a large and spacious island in the most eastern parts of Indonesia. The political situation in 1980 has colored life on this island with conflict and tension. Conflict and tension between the Indonesian military and a group of people who call themselves the Free Papua Movement (OPM), forced the people who live in some of these areas to evacuate and seek safety in neighboring Papua New Guinea (PNG). Frederikus (73 Years) is one of those who fled, and after nearly 25 years of living in PNG recently returned to his hometown to start a new life.

I was a refugee in PNG, along with hundreds of people from Jayapura. At that time there was a conflict between the Indonesian military and the OPM. The best way to save our lives was to evacuate. The evacuation began on February 9, 1984. At that time February 11, 1984, a planned coup failed after it was leaked to the army. People living in certain areas were all suspected of being involved and looked for by Indonesian soldiers. This resulted in most of the people fleeing to PNG. The refugees scattered in two large Camps, in Black Wara Vanimo, Sandaun Province, and the southern Camp Yowara, Kiungga District, Western Province,” recalls Frederikus the history of his displacement when meeting with JRS in March 2013.

Since 2009, Frederikus and his family returned to Jayapura. He started rebuilding his life on the outskirts of Jayapura. Since quite some time he and some other refugees had the plan to return to Jayapura, but felt they had to wait until the situation was right and a return was safe.

In order to ensure nothing will happen to us, we waited until one day there came an offer from the governor. It was a sign that after returning, there would be a guarantee for our safety. So we followed the governor’s offer and felt, now it was time to go home,“ said Frederikus.

Frederikus and his family returned home following the offer from the provincial government of Papua. “Our departure was organized in a collaborative effort between the governments of PNG and Indonesia, following the suggestions of the Governor of Papua at the time, Barnabas Suebu. He asked the Papuan refugees living in Papua New Guinea to return home. Governor Suebu’s invitation also came with the promise that the government will provide education, start-up capital for businesses, and a house. Right after the visit of the Governor to PNG in 2008 we signed up for return, but only on November 23, 2009 were we finally allowed to return to Papua,” he said.

After their return to Jayapura the former refugees feel that the governor’s promises were not kept. After one week living in a Training Center (BLK) belonging to the provincial Department of Transmigration in Northern Jayapura they were asked to return to their villages of origin. It was suggested to move in with their relatives. Each household received Rp 17 million. The 300 houses for the returnees that were promised by the Governor’s officers during the visit to the refugee camp in Kiungga, PNG, never materialized.

Arriving in his village, Frederikus and his family had to struggle hard from the very beginning to secure a bare minimum life. Even after years of hard work he struggles to finish the house he started building, ensure regularly employment and make sure his children can continue to attend school. “The important thing is I could go back home in order to have a quiet life,” he said.

After 2 years of sharing a relative’s house and with the help of his brothers he managed to buy 100 square meters land up in the hills. Now living with his son, daughter and four grandchildren in an unfinished wooden house of which only two rooms have walls, other parts still remain open. The roof partly made of plastic tarpaulins is leaking when it rains. The house is still build little by little by their own hands.

This land was bought by my family. My brothers helped to buy it for IDR 7 million. No help from the government. The only help came from family. I still owe as much as IDR 3 million in compensation for the coconut and areca nut trees that were growing on the land before,” said Frederikus.

When we asked the government for help, we were only given 10 wooden beams, 30 sheets of zinc, 2 kg of zinc nails and 2 kg other nails. This was only enough to make a shed. This was all the support given by the Department of Social Welfare in Jayapura,” he continued. The Papua Border Agency for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation (Badan Perbatasan dan Kerjasama Luar Negeri Provinsi Papua) has also been helping with kitchen utensils, blankets, towels and mosquito nets.

Frederikus and his son, Silvester, are carpenters and work hard to finish the house. If there is work in a house construction project, the wage for him as an experienced carpenter is IDR 100.000 per day, while his son earns IDR 80.000 per day. From their income they are saving to buy more wood and zinc. Every two weeks they buy clean water for IDR 100.000 which they then store in dozens of cans.

As returnee Frederikus recalls, at first he felt like a stranger, especially his children who did not speak Indonesian fluently because of the many years of using just English in PNG. To find employment was difficult. His only chance was that his skills as a carpenter were needed. By using his skills he now can continue the struggle covering the basic needs of his family. He does not despair but works hard still hoping that the promises made by Governor Suebu will become a reality one day. “In the refugee camp as well as here, it is the same, you have to keep on struggling, work first and then you earn some money,” said Frederikus optimistic. ***

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