West Papuan students in dire straits in NZ after Indonesia cuts funding

Papuan student Laurens Ikinia (left) with Governor Lukas Enembe
Papuan postgraduate communication studies student Laurens Ikinia (left) with Papuan Provincial Governor Lukas Enembe during a visit to New Zealand in 2019. Image: Laurens Ikinia/RNZ

By Sri Krishnamurthi, RNZ Pacific digital journalist

Students from West Papua have been facing a stressful time in New Zealand since the beginning of the year after Indonesia said it would no longer fund their autonomous Papuan scholarships and wanted them repatriated home.

One student from the Central Highlands in West Papua that RNZ Pacific has spoken to says he has had his dreams of a brighter future shattered by the Indonesian government.

Laurens Ikinia is a Master of Communications student at Auckland University of Technology (AUT), who has been ordered home just when he was due to complete his studies this month.

“The government has terminated the scholarships of 42 students here in Aotearoa who are the recipients of Papua provincial government scholarships and I am one of the students who was terminated, and this is worrying me,” Ikinia said.

West Papua’s struggles began in 1962 when the former Dutch colony was controversially and forcibly annexed by the Indonesian military through the New York agreement signed by the Netherlands and Indonesia.

In 1969, Western countries oversaw the takeover from the Netherlands to Indonesia and the right of self-determination was stripped from West Papuans.

“We are just surviving and do some part-time jobs as long as we can but, unfortunately, some students cannot work because of their visa conditions. I don’t know how long it’s going to take us but that’s what we are doing just to survive,” Ikinia said.

Of the 42 students impacted on by the new policy, 27 were on course to finish their studies.

‘Lame’ reason for policy change
The reason given by Indonesian authorities that the students were being recalled because they were failing in their studies was “lame”, Ikenia said.

“We don’t see that there will be a good future when the concerned students will go home. Most of the students come from low-income families. Even some parents cannot afford to send their children to pursue education up to tertiary level.

“I have not finished my thesis yet because my team and I have been busy with advocacy. However, I am determined to finish my study within this month,” he said.

“We have tried our best through various channels to communicate and negotiate with the Indonesian government in Jakarta, and the Papuan provincial government. However, as of today, there is no positive response.

“The provincial government stated in the letter that they would no longer support the students on the list. We have provided the complete data of the concerned students to clarify the data that the provincial government has, but they still stick to their decision to repatriate the concerned students.

“We are so heartbroken by this decision,” Ikinia said.

The students have approached the Green Party to lobby the New Zealand government on their behalf to try to resolve the issue.

Some of the Papuan students in Aotearoa New Zealand pictured with Papua provincial Governor Lukas Enembe
Some of the West Papuan students in Aotearoa New Zealand pictured with Papua Provincial Governor Lukas Enembe (front centre) during his visit in 2019. Image: APR

Green MPs meet students
Green Party MPs Ricardo Menendez March and Teanau Tuiono met with West Papuan students last week.

The Greens have asked the government for a scholarship fund to support those West Papuan students impacted by this funding decision.

They are also seeking a residency pathway for West Papuan students whose welfare is impacted on as a result of their scholarship fund being cut.

Additionally, they have asked the government to ensure students from West Papua remain safely housed in affordable accommodation because many students are on the verge of termination by their landlords.

The Greens were awaiting a response from the government.

All the West Papuan students, the recipients of the Papua provincial foreign scholarship in New Zealand, have not received their allowance and living costs since January.

“We have been receiving a lot of pressure from landlords and property owners. Some students have received a final warning from the owners,” Ikinia said.

“I still don’t know what is going to happen if we don’t pay the rent. For instance, I received the final warning email today.”

He thanked AUT for understanding his plight.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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