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Refugees, Papua: Women at risk of giving birth to children in the middle of a weapons conflict

August 7, 2019

https://www.bbc.com/indonesia/amp/indonesia-49233527?fbclid=IwAR3Wwqut6jyDvkdo40rzAj8McWp3N0KLOXHwzHMcONxXvxMStIjBmGSXzyg

Refugees, Papua: Women at risk of giving birth to children in the middle of a weapons conflict

Ayomi Amindoni BBC Indonesia 05 Agustus 2019

The women in Nduga and their children were forced to survive in the wilderness in the central mountains of Papua, to avoid armed conflict between the TNI / Polri and the Papuan pro-independence armed groups that lasted for the past eight months. Some of them were even forced to give birth in the forest.

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The baby boy is crying in his mother’s lap. His breathing was heavy, while his body was feverish without being covered by a cloth.

The mother, Jubiana Kogeya, looked confused. Several times she tried to calm her child by breastfeeding her, but not a speck of breast milk came out. By the mother, the baby was named a refugee.

"Because giving birth in the forest, in refugee, so I give the name of Refugees," Jubiana answered when asked why the fourth child was named Refugees.

Refugees were born about four months ago, when his mother was on the run from her home in Mugi district, to avoid armed contact between the TNI / Polri and Papuan pro-independence armed groups.

Initially, Jubiana, who was pregnant at the time, was reluctant to evacuate. Meanwhile, her husband and three other children were already preparing to evacuate at that time.

"At the time of the attack and arson in the Yigi and Yal districts, I still survived. As soon as it happened in Mugi, it just started moving out of the house," Jubiana told BBC News Indonesia, Friday (02/08).

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"I saw my husband holding children in his hands, eventually I was forced to flee. I heard that in Mugi there were soldiers, shootings, arson, finally out of the house, into the forest," he said.

For days, Jubiana and her three young children had to face the cold mountain weather and eat a kind of nail plants that grow in the forest for daily intake.

Until finally around April, she was forced to give birth in the forest.

"I am alone, nobody accompanies, [I gave birth] under a tree." said Jubiana, trying to calm the refugees who kept crying.

"This child has a transverse position [in the stomach], the process is almost a life bet. I think the child has died, because when I want to give birth I press, I set myself, he crosses, so I set. I think this child has died," he said.

Since being born last April, Refugees have never worn clothes. When the cold weather hit, Jubiana could only hug her child tightly and covered her with woven pandanus leaves.

"Make a mat using pandan leaves, then give him a base, then hug him," explained Jubiana.

Jubiana is one of thousands of Nduga residents who are now forced to evacuate from the raging conflict in Nduga.

Another refugee, Katarina Kogeya and her eight children, were forced to stay in the forest for some time to avoid clashes in the village in Yal district.

"No time to bring anything. Just bring the children in the hands to the forest we made tents in the forest from leaves. These children cried for food because there was no more food.”

"Finally, we have to move again from that place to a place far into the forest which is even more jungle."

Since last June, the two of them have been displaced in the Ilekma district in Wamena, Jawawijaya district to avoid conflicts that have raged in Nduga since eight months ago. Many of them, until now still survive in the forest.

The human rights activist who accompanied the refugees, Theo Hesegem, said these refugees became ‘victims on their own land’.

"They say we are afraid of both because these two hold weapons so if these two hold weapons and there is a standard of contact between the TNI and OPM, the community could become victims in the middle," said Theo.

The escalation of armed clashes between the military and Papuan pro-independence armed groups occurred after the shooting incident of dozens of Trans Papua road construction workers last December.

Over the past eight months, a wave of refugees has spread to several areas around Nduga, even some of them were reported dead.

However, by a spokesman for the West Papua National Liberation Army, the Free Papua Movement (TPNB-OPM) Sebby Sambom, the large number of refugees and casualties is a ‘risk of war’.

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"That is the risk of war. It was not the TPN who was expelled but the Indonesians who entered, so they were afraid of Indonesia. Therefore the responsibility of the Indonesian government, not the TPN. The TPN always lived with the community, in the villages, never threatened the community, never threatened the community "They displaced people. They were displaced because of the presence of large numbers of TNI / Polri and burning houses, livestock killed, butchered," he said.

However, this claim was disputed by the Head of Information of the Cenderawasih Military Command Lt. Col. Cpl Eko Daryanto, who said the joint TNI / Polri operation in Nduga was in addition to securing the Trans Papua project that crossed the Nduga Regency, as well as the pursuit to find the perpetrators of the attack last December.

Difficulties faced, because many of these Papuan pro-group groups mingle with residents.

"When they carry out attacks, they always mingle with the community. Naturally, if people become victims, they evacuate," Eko explained.

However, he stressed, not all Nduga residents were refugees. Eko claimed there were Nduga residents who "felt safe with the arrival of our troops."

"But on the one hand they feel frightened because OPM is mingling, there is also a side of intimidation. We have difficulty differentiating OPM when they are not armed," said Eko.

Theo Hesegem explained that some refugees experienced many rejections, while living in refugee camps.

He gave an example, children who sought refuge in Walesi were told to pay by people who owned land when caught catching fish. Another refugee, while searching for firewood, was reprimanded by local residents.

"This shows that they are not safe, there [military] operations then here they live, but not safe."

Not to mention, many refugees are traumatized by the military presence. That is why, some of them refused the assistance provided by the Indonesian government, because it was considered that the distribution of aid involved the military.

This, according to Theo, could not be separated from the trauma of refugees over the existence of the military who pursued the armed group led by Egianus Kogoya.

In addition, their customary belief is that they cannot receive help from ‘the enemy’.

"The culture of people here, if we fight with the enemy, we cannot take it, traditionally it is difficult. Later they will get sick and die all."

However, military involvement in the distribution of aid was denied by the Commander of Kodim 1702 / Jayawijaya Lieutenant Colonel Inf Chandra Dianto.

He said that the military deployment in Nduga was to secure the construction of the Trans Papua road project from interference from armed groups.

"Of course, escalation or gunfire is one of the tasks in order to secure workers."

"The shootout occurred because of the emergence of disturbances. So as to reduce aid, inevitably the task of the TNI is to secure, so that contact fires cannot be avoided," Chandra said.

The conflict in Nduga, according to Papuan human rights figure who is also a Catholic priest, Father John Djonga, is inseparable from past trauma that occurred since the 1960s, when a group of people wanted Papuan independence from the Republic of Indonesia.

Since then, Nduga residents have lived under the experience of military violence, until now.

"Therefore, in my opinion, it is no longer the time for the Indonesian government to feel they are the most righteous, the OPM also feel they are the most right, because they are fighting for an independent Papua. But how independent is Papua with this much death?"

"I think as a church person how these two sides must negotiate so there are no more victims," Father John stressed.

Judging from the past history of the Nduga people and the conflicts that occurred in the region which became the division of Jayawijaya Regency, he considered the government and military leaders did not understand the Nduga problem.

"They are living under experiences of military violence, military operations, until now.”

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"Because that’s actually how the Nduga people can live safely. Safe life according to them cannot be safe with the military, it cannot and until now there is still a warfare."

The Ministry of Social Affairs noted that there were at least 2,000 refugees scattered at several points in Wamena, Lanijaya and Asmat. Among these refugees, 53 people were reported dead. This figure is far below the data compiled by the Solidarity Team for Nduga, which recorded at least 5,000 Nduga residents were now displaced and 139 of them died.

Data from volunteers said that refugees in Wamena were scattered around 40 points. Most of them live in family homes.

Due to the large number of refugees arriving, one house or honai can contain between 30-50 people.

Visual production by Oki Budhi.

This article is part of BBC News Indonesia’s special coverage of Nduga refugees and the conflict in Papua.

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